We finally got some snow yesterday, just in time for Little League baseball tryouts this weekend. If the law of averages holds true, then I’m betting we’ll get more “snow-outs” than rain-outs this spring.

In this week’s news…

UPS unveiled the DIAD V this week, the latest version of the company’s handheld computer for its drivers. According to the press release, the new computer weighs only 19 ounces, has a larger and clearer display, leverages Gobi radio technology to allow instant switching of cellular carriers if one carrier’s signal is lost, includes a color camera that could be used to enhance proof-of-delivery information, and has a multi-dimensional imager that can decode many symbologies without requiring the driver to rotate the DIAD to capture the barcode. “And when it’s not in use for operations, the [DIAD] can be used to provide training videos to 90,000 drivers simultaneously.”

In short, the trends we’re seeing in the consumer mobile device market — smaller, lighter, faster, clearer displays, multiple networking technologies, and embedded cameras — are also present in the industrial mobile computer market, and the DIAD is arguably the iPad equivalent for this segment.

As I commented last September, software-as-a-service TMS is no longer confined to the US and North America. The latest data point: MercuryGate announced a partnership with JFE Pfe Ltd to create MercuryGate Asia Pacific, which will be based in Singapore. MercuryGate Asia will sell, implement and support TMS in Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia, Japan, Malaysia, and South Korea. The company also announced its first customer in the region, Zuellig Pharma, a distributor of pharmaceutical and healthcare products in Singapore.

On the global trade front, surface trade between the United States and its NAFTA partners, Canada and Mexico, totaled $74.2 billion in December 2011, a 11.6 percent increase from December 2010. And President Obama signed an executive order creating the Interagency Trade Enforcement Center to “bring the full resources of the federal government to bear to investigate and counter unfair trade practices around the world, including by countries like China,” as Obama explained it to United Auto Workers members at a convention in Washington this week.

Road congestion is a serious transportation issue, and according to a Wall Street Journal article, Ford and other auto manufacturers are investing in technology and services to solve it. Here is an excerpt from the article:

[Ford] will invest in systems for its vehicles that will lead to cars that avoid traffic jams, reserve parking spaces and, under certain conditions, drive themselves, in an effort to cut down on global gridlock, [Bill Ford Jr.] said. The company also is moving to expand the use of crash-avoidance technology and will broaden its collaboration with car-sharing companies such as Zipcar Inc.

 

Mr. Ford—who has been speaking out for the past two years about the need to address urban traffic—envisions a future in which fully autonomous cars are connected to a database that coordinates automobile travel with public transit and other transportation methods and parking.

The February 2012 cover story in WIRED magazine, “Let the Robot Drive: The Autonomous Car of the Future is Here,” provides a more in-depth look at the state of this technology. The article highlights the work that Google, Mercedes, BMW, and others are doing in this area. This excerpt from the article sums it up nicely:

But while Google wants to create, in essence, computers that drive, the auto industry has been trying to make its vehicles drive more like computers. Bolstered by increasingly powerful and affordable sensors, sophisticated algorithms, and Moore’s law, the world’s carmakers have been slowly redefining what it means to be a driver, encouraging us to offload everything from shifting gears to parallel parking. The automated car isn’t just around the corner—it’s here. The more interesting question isn’t when we will let go of the wheel completely but what form and purpose the car will have when we finally do.

Maybe my tongue-in-cheek commentary last year about robot truck drivers potentially solving the driver-shortage issue is not so far fetched after all.

Finally, if you haven’t had a song stuck in your head in a while and are looking for one, let me suggest “Somebody That I Used to Know” by Gotye. It’s always refreshing when a song comes along that is a bit different from everything else playing on the radio these days.

Have a great weekend!

(Note: MercuryGate is an ARC client)