Apple Receives Permit From California DMV to Test Self-Driving Cars [Updated]

Apple has been granted a permit that enables it to test autonomous vehicles on public roads in the state of California, according to the California DMV website (via Business Insider).

Apple was added to the list of permit holders that are allowed to participate in the Autonomous Vehicle Tester Program in California on Friday, joining companies like Google, Tesla, BMW, Honda, Ford, Nissan, and more.



Obtaining a permit for autonomous vehicle testing requires multiple steps, including outlining details for each specific vehicle being tested, suggesting Apple may have some sort of software test vehicle that’s road ready. Whether Apple will actually begin testing a vehicle remains to be seen, as some companies sign up and then don’t go on to use it, but should Apple begin vehicle testing, public reports will need to be filed.

In California, all companies that participate in the Autonomous Vehicle Testing Program must file Disengagement Reports that outline how many miles were covered with self-driving vehicles, so if Apple does test a vehicle, the information will be shared on the DMV’s website.

Apple’s acceptance into the Autonomous Vehicle Tester Program confirms the company’s work on a car-related project. Early rumors suggested Apple was developing its own autonomous electric vehicle, but Apple is said to have since transitioned to building an autonomous driving system rather than a full blown car.

Developed under the leadership of Bob Mansfield, Apple’s autonomous driving system could allow it to partner with existing car makers or return to its own car development project in the future. Apple executives have reportedly given the car team until 2017 to prove the feasibility of an Apple-designed autonomous driving system, and its approval to road-test vehicles could be a signal that the project is advancing.

Update: According to Bloomberg, Apple filed for a permit because it plans to start testing its self-driving car software platform on public streets. The software will be put in existing cars, with the permit covering three 2015 Lexus RX450h SUVs and six drivers, according to a DMV spokesperson.

Related Roundup: Apple Car

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Siri Voice Actress Susan Bennett Reveals More Details About the Origins of Apple’s Virtual Assistant

It’s been over three years since voice actress Susan Bennett came forward and revealed that she was the original female voice of Siri on iOS, which first debuted on the iPhone 4s in 2011. In a recent interview with Typeform, Bennett delved even deeper into her history with Apple and the early days of its virtual assistant.

In the interview, which is dotted with audio playback of Bennett’s voice so readers can compare her normal voice to that of Siri, the voice actress remembers recording a new project in July of 2005 for a text-to-speech company called ScanSoft. The project was said to be for a phone-messaging system, but it turns out it was the basis for what would become Siri, two years before the original iPhone even came out.



Bennett’s job during that summer was to recite “nonsense phrases” that made little to no sense. A few years ago, the voice actor behind the Siri male voice, Daniel, described the same work process when he was employed by ScanSoft. ScanSoft eventually merged with Nuance, which powers the voices and speech recognition abilities of Siri.

A few of Bennett’s lines included:

“Malitia oi hallucinate, buckry ockra ooze, Cathexis fefatelly sexual ease stump, Say the shrodding again, say the shroding again, say the shreeding again, say the shriding again, say the shrading again, say the shrudding again.”

“We were recording for a text-to-speech company. And this was brand new to us. We had no real idea of what we were doing. We thought we were doing new scripts for phone systems.”

Bennett said she was paid an hourly wage, and refused a five-year contract that was eventually offered to her when the job was done, mentioning that constantly using a monotone voice day-in and day-out was “the complete opposite of creative.” Only later did she realize that every odd phrase provided Apple with “all of the sounds of the English language,” allowing the company to go in and “reform them into new phrases and sentences,” and eventually craft what would become known today as Siri.

The origin of Siri’s name is also explained, with Bennett stating that Dag Kittlaus — a co-creator of Siri who has now left Apple to found Viv — had originally planned to name his daughter Siri. His wife eventually ended up having a boy, so Kittlaus used the girl’s name for Apple’s smartphone assistant instead.

“In Norwegian the word Siri means “beautiful woman who guides you to victory.” Of course we know better, she’s the feisty chick who tells you where to go, right. But, Dag and his wife were expecting a child, they thought it was going to be a girl, and they planned to name her Siri. But when the baby arrived it was a boy. So they gave the name to the app instead. And that’s where Siri got her name.”

Eventually, Bennett discovered that she was the voice of the ever-present voice assistant in the iPhone beginning in October 2011, and admitted that “it was a little creepy.” She decided to stay quiet about her role for two years, finally revealing herself in a CNN interview in 2013. That same year, Apple ended up removing all of Bennett’s voice work from Siri and replacing her with someone else within the completely redesigned iOS 7 update.

The original Siri in iOS 5


Bennett said that everything has worked out for the best, because her work as the original Siri has opened up aspects of her career that she never imagined, including introducing Steve Wozniak at the 2013 Dallas Digital Summit and even giving a TED Talk in 2016. Because of this, she harbors no ill will towards Apple and the secretive methods the company used when creating Siri.

“I kind of got the best of both worlds because I was the original, and I do get to promote myself, and when Siri starts leading us all into the sea it won’t be my voice.”

The full interview on Typeform is well worth a read, as it goes back to detail Bennett’s career beginnings as the voice of an ATM named Tillie in the 1970s, and delves into how Apple’s programmers created Siri’s personality from Bennett’s original voice work. The article also looks to the future of virtual assistants and what the AI helpers might look like in next-generation smartphones.

Tag: Siri

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Nest Earth Day Discounts Include $30 Off Learning Thermostat, $50 Off Combo Purchase With Google Home

Nest recently announced a new discount has launched for customers looking to purchase the company’s Nest Learning Thermostat, allowing them to buy the IoT temperature-controlling device for $219 on its website, totaling $30 in savings. Nest founder and chief product officer Matt Rogers announced the temporary deal in a blog post this week, which he said is tied into upcoming celebrations surrounding Earth Day.

As such, Nest Learning Thermostat’s $219 price tag will only remain available to customers until Earth Day, on Saturday, April 22. In the post, Rogers mentioned that since the Nest Learning Thermostat’s launch in 2011, the device has “saved over 12 billion kWh of energy,” which equates to “enough to power New York City for 81 days.”

For us, home isn’t just an address where we raise our families. It’s the world we inhabit, and it’s our only one. As the late Carl Sagan noted in his book Pale Blue Dot, “On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives.” So it’s up to us to take care of Earth, for all the generations to come.

In honor of Earth Day, we want to help more people save energy with a Nest Thermostat. Reversing decades of global warming is a huge challenge. But we believe that together, we can change climate change.

Customers also interested in Google Home have a chance to save a little more as well, as Nest also announced a combo deal where purchasing both the Nest Learning Thermostat and Google Home at the same time will earn users $50 in savings. Instead of paying $378 for both devices, customers taking advantage of the Earth Day deal will pay $328. On their own, Google Home costs $129 while Nest Learning Thermostat costs $249.

For those unaware, Google Home is Google’s smart home hub, which includes voice controls for numerous home automation tasks like controlling temperature by connecting to Nest.

Last month it was rumored that Nest is working on a cheaper version of its Learning Thermostat that would cost somewhere under $200 in a bid to gain “a bigger share of the connected home market.” Cost-cutting measures might include a Nest Learning Thermostat made with less expensive components and potentially one that would lack the current version’s metal edges. Also reported to be in the works by Nest are sensors that would let users control temperature room-by-room, an alarm system, digital doorbell, and updated indoor camera.

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YouTube Dark Mode Surfaces in Latest Desktop Chrome Browser Update

Google appears to be testing a Dark Mode feature for YouTube in the latest version of its Chrome 57 desktop browser.

The built-in mode was discovered on Thursday and shared in a Reddit post, and while the setting doesn’t appear by default, a quick command in the developer console is all that’s required to enable it.

YouTube Dark Mode in Chrome with black theme enabled


Follow these steps to enable the YouTube dark mode in Chrome on Mac. Make sure you’re signed in to YouTube before performing the steps.

  1. Press the keyboard combination shortcut Option + Command + I to open the developer tools sidebar.
  2. Click the Console tab.
  3. Paste document.cookie=”VISITOR_INFO1_LIVE=fPQ4jCL6EiE” into the console and press enter.
  4. Close the developer tools sidebar and refresh the YouTube page.
  5. Click your YouTube profile picture, select Dark Mode from the dropdown, and toggle the switch to enable the mode.

Google Chrome is available to download for free on the Chrome website. [Direct Link]

Tag: Chrome

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Slack Chat Platform Finally Gets Custom Status Message Feature

Team chat platform Slack got a long-awaited feature on Thursday with the addition of status updates, finally allowing users to customize their status message beyond the default “away” setting.

The new “set a status” feature includes five Suggested statuses including In a meeting, Commuting, Out sick, Vacationing, and Working remotely, as well as an input field for typing a custom message – allowing users to display a return time if they’re away, for example.



Each status can be up to 100 characters and users can display an associated emoji to communicate their circumstances, but if an emoji isn’t chosen a speech ballon is shown instead. The emoji appears alongside the username in the chat window, the sidebar, and the chat room members list, while hovering over the emoji or tapping it brings up the full status message.

Some third-party apps can also modify the status message. For example, Zenefits syncs user status with its Time Off Tracking system, while Meekan shows when someone’s in a meeting (and when they’ll be free). Statuses also automatically update when a user is on a voice or video call in Slack.



Statuses can be set from the browser, desktop and mobile versions of Slack. Mac users can click their name in the upper left corner of the sidebar, then select Set a status. On iOS, users should tap the More items icon (…), or edit their status directly from their profile.

Slack is a free download for Mac on the Mac App Store and available for iPhone and iPad on the App Store.

Tag: Slack

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Amazon Offers Echo’s Far-Field Voice Recognition Tech to Third Parties

Amazon has fired another salvo in the virtual assistant wars by opening up access to the far-field voice recognition technology found in its Echo smart speakers so that third-party manufacturers can make their own versions (via BBC).

The move comes as Amazon attempts to spread the use of its Alexa virtual assistant across a wide range of connected products and take ownership of a larger portion of the growing smart devices market. Google announced its branded Home smart speaker in November, while Apple is also rumored to be planning a similar Siri-enabled device this year.



The initially invite-only access to the technology via the Alexa Voice Service program will give manufacturers the right to replicate the Echo’s seven-microphone array that allows the speakers to hear a voice command from across the room.

The access also means third-party developers can use the proprietary algorithms used for wake-word recognition, which focus the array on the owner’s voice and filter out echoes and other noises. Developers will be provided with a reference kit as a starting point for their own designs, and the freedom to source components from a range of parts manufacturers.

“Our vision is for Alexa to be everywhere, and that means making it available to other companies and services to integrate into a wide range of devices,” said an Amazon spokesperson.

“We expect Alexa to be in many devices over time, including products that compete with Echo, which is why we’re investing in making a wide range of hands-free and far-field reference solutions available to OEMs [original equipment manufacturers].”

Amazon’s rollout of Alexa has gained steam ever since CES 2017 in January, when the virtual assistant cropped up in a range of products including third-party smart speakers, cars, TVs, lamps, and even refrigerators.

In February Amazon announced it was extending third-party support for its Alexa Voice Service (AVS) internationally, and last month it added its Siri competitor to the company’s iOS app, allowing users to search Amazon, track orders, play music, and start audio books from Audible.

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