In today’s Bulldog wrapup of tech and life science news:
- Amazon foresees delivery by drones in 30 minutes
- Chimerix raises $175 million in stock sale
- A new name for BIO organization
- New chips squeeze small businesses
- Facebook unveils new photo app
- Delivery by drone in 30 minutes?
Borrowing a pizza delivery motto, online retail giant Amazon told Congress Wednesday it is developing the technology to use drones to deliver packages in 30 minutes or less, a broad expansion of unmanned flight that is raising concerns about safety, security and privacy.
Using commercial drones to quickly deliver packages is probably years away. But when government regulations catch up with emerging technologies, it could revolutionize the way people shop for items they need quickly, said Paul E. Misener, vice president of global public policy for Amazon.com.
“If a consumer wants a small item quickly, instead of driving to go shopping or causing delivery automobiles to come to her home or office, a small, electrically-powered (drone) vehicle will make the trip faster and more efficiently and cleanly,” Misener told the House Oversight Committee.
The Federal Aviation Administration proposed rules in February that would severely restrict the use of commercial drones. The House panel held a hearing Wednesday on their economic potential as well as concerns about safety and privacy.
FAA’s proposed rules would require operators to keep commercial drones within eyesight at all times, which significantly limits the distance they can fly. The restriction probably would prevent drone delivery as proposed by Amazon.
FAA Deputy Administrator Michael Whitaker said more research is needed before the government allows their widespread use.
“We are working diligently to develop a regulatory framework that will allow for innovation while ensuring the safety of other users of the airspace and people and property on the ground,” Whitaker told the committee.
The rules should be finalized within a year, Whitaker said.
- Chimerix wraps up $175M stock sale
Durham-based drug developer Chimerix (Nasdaq: CMRX) has wrapped up a stock sale that generated some $175 million in new capital.
Chmerix focuses on antiviral drugs that can be delivered orally.
The company sold all shares offered as well as another 566,250 to the underwriters of the offering for a total of 4.3 million. Shares sold for $39.75.
“Chimerix anticipates using the net proceeds from the offering to fund its research and development efforts and for general corporate purposes, including working capital,” the company said.
- New name for BIO organization
The Biotechnology Industry Organization is getting a new name.
The Biotechnology Innovation Organization.
Ron Cohen, CEO of Acorda Therapeutics and chair of the BIO board, made the announcement at the annual BIO convention in Philadelphia on Wednesday.
“I’m pleased to announce that the BIO Board has approved a change to BIO’s name… from the Biotechnology Industry Organization to the Biotechnology Innovation Organization. Still BIO, but now with a name that better expresses the essence of what our member companies represent,” he said.
The new name takes effect in early 2016.
- New chip credit cards putting squeeze on small businesses
New credit and debit cards with computer chips are putting the squeeze on small businesses.
The cards being rolled out by banks and credit card companies are aimed at reducing fraud from counterfeit cards. As chip cards are phased in, magnetic stripe cards, which are easier for thieves to copy, will be phased out. Businesses of all sizes face an Oct. 1 deadline to get new card readers and software that can handle chips. Most estimates of transition costs for small companies vary from the low hundreds to tens of thousands of dollars due to the wide range of equipment used.
If businesses don’t meet the deadline set by companies including MasterCard, Visa and American Express, they can be held liable for transactions made with phony chip cards.
The switch to new chips in credit and debit cards poses a threat for small companies because they can’t get the volume discounts on the new equipment that big retailers get. And they don’t have in-house tech experts to install the new systems.
“This is one of the biggest nightmares merchants are going to face,” says Michael Kleinman, owner of Mason Eyewear, a store in Brickell, Florida, and Centurion Payment Services, a company that processes credit and debit card payments.
- Facebook’s latest app
Facebook’s latest app promises to help you organize photos on your phone and share them with friends privately.
The new app, Moments, uses facial-recognition technology to group photos based on who’s in them. This is the same technology that Facebook already uses to tag your friends on the site. Google and other companies are also using facial recognition and other forms of artificial intelligence to help sort the hundreds, if not thousands of photos most of us tend to amass on our phones. Facebook’s new app comes just weeks after Google launched its own service for organizing all the photos that collect on phones.
Moments lets you send photos to your friends privately, while the main Facebook app is mostly about sharing photos more broadly.
CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote on his Facebook page this week that the app will let friends pass along photos of you they have hidden in their camera rolls. He sees the technology going much further, though.
“Now imagine a system that can identify words on a screen for a blind person and read them aloud, help an autistic child to decipher facial expressions, or identify street signs in one language and instantly translate them to another,” he wrote.
Moments is available on iOS and Android devices in the U.S., with more countries to come.
Moments is the latest stand-alone app from Facebook, joining Messenger and lesser-known products like the calling app Hello. Moments comes out of Facebook’s Creative Labs division, which regularly churns out apps as it tries to function more like a nimble startup. Although some apps might flop, Facebook gets to embrace its now-retired catchphrase “move fast and break things.”