Sunday, December 25, 2011

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UAE oil output at 2.6 mln bpd in December -minister

Posted: 25 Dec 2011 07:49 AM PST

UAE oil output at 2.6 mln bpd in December -minister

UAE oil output at 2.6 mln bpd in December  minister

ABU DHABI, Dec 25 (Reuters) – The United Arab Emirates

produced about 2.6 million barrels per day of oil in December,

the UAE's Energy Minister Mohammed bin Dhaen al-Hamli said on


Asked how much the OPEC member produced in December, Hamli

said: "Around 2.6 (million bpd)."

"Our commitments (for December) were set at the end of

October," Hamli told Reuters after a meeting of Gulf Arab oil

ministers in Abu Dhabi

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GM, despite record profits, creates political liabilities for Obama

Posted: 25 Dec 2011 07:48 AM PST

GM, despite record profits, creates political liabilities for Obama

GM, despite record profits, creates political liabilities for ObamaPresident Barack Obama, during one of several trips to U.S. auto plants, drives a Volt off the assembly line at GM's Detroit-Hamtramck plant on July 30, 2010.

GM closed Thursday at $20.70 a share, less than half the $53 price that the U.S. Treasury Department needs to break even. Since Dec. 19, when the shares closed at their lowest price since an initial public offering last year, the shares have risen for three straight days. The stock still needs to rally almost 50 percent to reach $30 a share, the minimum price the Treasury Department would consider for a secondary offering, said three people familiar with the matter.

That puts Obama in a quandary. When Republicans nominate a candidate in August, the government will probably either still own a substantial portion of GM or will have sold the stock at a loss that could be more than $10 billion. Obama's opponents can criticize him either way, said Dan Ikenson, an economist at the Cato Institute, a Washington think tank.

"The administration is in a Catch-22," he said. "They want to hold on and get the best price, but the longer they hold onto it, they come open to the scorn that the administration still has a horse in the race and could make policy that is favorable to GM."

Investors are holding back on buying GM while they expect that the U.S. will be selling hundreds of millions of shares that may push down the price, said Adam Jonas, a New York-based analyst at Morgan Stanley. After the government sells, the shares should rally, he said.

Pension costs

In Europe, GM's operations will lose money in 2011, the company said last month, after assurances earlier in the year that it would break even. Now GM management is talking about possible restructuring plans for its Opel unit. That makes investors nervous, said Peter Nesvold, an analyst at Jefferies and Co.

With economic struggles in Europe, GM's exposure to its car market makes investors even more concerned, he said. Ford Motor Co., also exposed to European risk, has fallen 35 percent this year through Thursday, while GM dropped 44 percent.

GM's pension plan is underfunded. The plan was $22.2 billion short at the end of 2010. Analysts will get an update when fourth quarter earnings are announced in the next two months. Investors probably will remain wary until then, Nesvold said in a phone interview.

Next year will also be a transition year for new models. GM is preparing to introduce new pickups late in 2012. That means GM will temporarily lower production of its profitable Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups while retooling factories for the new models. That will lower profits, Nesvold said.

Loaded lots

While GM built up its inventory of trucks in anticipation of that switch, a Bloomberg Industries analysis says U.S. automakers may increase cash discounts to clear out vehicle stockpiles and maintain market share as Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. run plants overtime to make up for production lost this year to natural disasters in Japan and Thailand.

GM's profitability this year, as measured by earnings before interest and taxes relative to revenue, lags behind Ford, Volkswagen AG and Hyundai Motor Co., according to an analysis by Morgan Stanley Investment Banking.

GM CEO Dan Akerson is trying to hold down costs to improve those EBIT margins, including by turning down heat in offices. The automaker hired Hackett Group to identify back-office savings at headquarters and throughout North America, including salaried job cuts, two people familiar with the matter said this week.

Stock outlook

Nesvold expects GM shares to reach $24 within 12 months. The average of 13 analysts' estimates issued in the last two months, including Nesvold's, is $32.04. Selling at that price would add up to a $10.5 billion loss for the government.

The Treasury Department wants a minimum of $30 a share for its 32 percent stake and would prefer to sell above the IPO price of $33 a share, according to the three people, who asked not to be identified revealing private plans. If the analysts are right, GM shares won't reach the IPO price before the election.

Steve Rattner, who led Obama's automotive task force that oversaw the restructuring of GM, said in an interview that Republicans will try to use the auto bailout against Obama and the Democrats. The president will have to make a case that the bailout saved the economy from a deeper recession, Rattner said.

Election 'centerpiece'

"The auto industry will be a centerpiece in this election in terms of what Obama did and what the Republicans say they would have done," Rattner said. "Obama will have to say that if he hadn't done it, things would be worse. Whether the American public will believe that, we'll find out."

This year, Obama and some of his staff members made stops in Michigan and Ohio to tout saving GM, Chrysler Group LLC and many of the parts makers that rely on Detroit's car companies. In May, Ron Bloom, who at the time was Obama's special assistant for manufacturing policy, gave a speech at a Chrysler plant outside Detroit and cited an independent study that said the bailout saved 1 million jobs.

The Treasury Department has said that losses on the auto rescue are probably inevitable.

"We're going to lose money in the auto industry on net, but we did this for the jobs we were going to save, not to maximize return," Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner said at a Detroit Economic Club event on April 28. "We're not a private investor. Our job was to protect the country."

Bush first

GM has hired or called back 13,000 workers since August 2009 and plans to add 6,300 more workers over the next four years. The George W. Bush administration provided GM with cash, starting with $4 billion on Dec. 31, 2008, that kept the automaker solvent until the Obama administration could manage the 2009 bankruptcy.

"My view with regards to the bailout was that, whether it was by President Bush or by President Obama, it was the wrong way to go," Republican candidate Mitt Romney said at a Nov. 9 debate in suburban Detroit. Romney has said U.S. bankruptcy laws work fine without White House involvement.

With GM solidly in the black and poised to take the global sales crown back from Toyota, the public is less focused on the automaker or its government ownership, said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, president of the American Action Forum, a conservative think tank in Washington. Republicans will still try to rekindle the issue, he said in a phone interview.

"By and large the public has moved on, but that doesn't mean the Republicans won't try to make it an issue," Holtz- Eakin said. "The Republicans are actively taking surveys and doing focus groups to see how they can attack the Democrats. It's easy to remind the public about the bailout."

Saving jobs

The Obama campaign, meanwhile, is planning to put Republicans on the defensive for not supporting the industry.

"While the Republican candidates would have let the American auto industry be liquidated by uniformly opposing the rescue loan, the president made the tough decision to extend the loan in order to save 1.4 million jobs and require a restructuring plan that has led American automakers to produce the cars of the future," said Ben LaBolt, a spokesman for the campaign.

Selling GM's 500 million shares at today's price would mean a loss of about $17 billion. That would create a political fallout that neither GM nor Treasury wants, said Morgan Stanley's Jonas.

"It would be difficult to stand that big of a taxpayer loss," Jonas said in a phone interview. "If Treasury were to sell at these prices, it would be a political issue and would tarnish GM's commercial image. If we were the financial adviser to Treasury, we'd say, 'Don't sell.'"

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How to Build an Effective Google+ Brand Strategy

Posted: 25 Dec 2011 06:25 AM PST

How to Build an Effective Google+ Brand Strategy

How to Build an Effective Google+ Brand StrategyLawrence Mak is the product marketing manager at Context Optional, an Efficient Frontier company, where he covers product positioning and communications while moonlighting as a writer for all things social media.

Having surpassed one billion unique visitors this past May,Google has become a part of our daily online lives. Yet Google's impact is expanding even further. Google+ has now grown to more than 40 million users.

Recently, the company introduced Google+ pages for businesses, designed to help brands connect with customers. While Google+ pages is in its infancy, the social network's user base is growing, warranting brand attention and testing. Now is a good time to explore how Google+ works and what impact it can have upon the way your brand communicates with customers.

As with any social media channel, begin by asking yourself what your communities want and expect when interacting with your brand, and how this platform ties into your larger business goals. If Google+ makes sense for your brand, create your Google+ page and take a look at these recommendations to develop your Google+ page growth and engagement strategy.

Here are six steps to help jumpstart your brand presence on Google+, and what you should consider when communicating and engaging followers in the Google+ environment.

1. Drive Follower Growth

When Google+ users arrive at your page, they'll see a big, red "Add to circles" button. After clicking this button, users follow your brand and receive its updates in their streams. But how do users get to your page in the first place?

  • Place a Google+ Badge on your website that redirects users to your page.
  • Drive viral growth by asking your employees and partners to share your page with their Circles. For businesses with multiple brands, create one Circle and share a portfolio of those brands with friends. Then, users can decide which ones they want to follow.
  • Direct Connect is an interesting search tie-in that enables users to automatically add brands to their Circles by including a "+" before a brand name in their Google search queries. Similar to call-outs in advertising that ask consumers to "Like us on Facebook," brands can say "Search for +3tlink on Google," and the action will take users directly to the brand's Google+ page.
  • Leverage existing best practices for increasing likes on Facebook and follows on Twitter, then apply the same principles here. Just remember, a user must add your brand to a circle on his profile in order for you to publish content to him. The +1 action does not automatically create that connection.
  • And of course, use advertising and media to drive traffic directly to your page.

2. Segment Followers with Circles

Once you have followers, you'll want to consider how to segment those audiences so you can target the right followers with the right messages. Your Google+ page comes with the ability to create custom Circles as well as four default Circles: Following, Customers, VIPs and Team Members. Once users add you, they'll show up under the "People Who've Added You" tab. You can then drag and drop certain users to your Circles to share content with them.

Because Google+ pages do not currently support geo-targeting, effective Circle management is crucial to properly connect with followers and drive engagement. You're trying to build loyalty, and the quickest way to turn users off is by spamming them with irrelevant and untimely information. Approach Circle creation as you would audience segmentation in ad placements. Who would respond best to which message?

The great thing about Circles is you can get as nuanced as you want. For example, in addition to lumping all your customers into one Circle called "Customers," you can segment them by product affinity, preferences, likeliness to influence others, or even history of engagement. The downside, at least currently, is that without location, demographic or preference data that allows for scalable segmentation, Circle management is a manual process. Be vigilant early on about adding followers to Circles daily, or you'll wind up spending a lot of time sorting through user profiles.

3. Understand Your Google+ Audience

How to Build an Effective Google+ Brand Strategy

Because Google+ is only six months old, and its user base is changing daily, it's important to gather insight on who your audience is and determine how best to capitalize on those connections to build an engaged following. You should not assume that your Facebook fans and your Google+ followers are the same people. Are your customers on Google+? Which of them actively use it? What type of content resonates with them and drives +1s or comments? And what content encourages shares that spread brand awareness and drive follower growth?

Google will soon launch data tools that give a brand insight into typical areas like user demographics and social engagement, as well as unique views into influencers and trends in your community. Tracking engagement metrics per Circle will give you perspective into how effective your publishing strategy is and how likely it is that certain groups will share your content. The Google+ Search tool can help identify trends based on keywords and the Ripples tool provides insight into viral shares and identifies influencers.

4. Differentiate Google+ Content

Once you take the time to analyze and understand your followers, you'll likely find that interest and engagement differ from your Facebook and Twitter communities. Therefore, differentiate brand content among social platforms. Twitter content leans towards short, informative, witty posts that typically link away from Twitter to an article, blog post or website. Facebook thrives on a mix of informative posts, links, marketing campaigns (deals, coupons and initiatives) and easy questions designed to drive engagement. What type of brand content might flourish on Google+?

Google is an information powerhouse that hosts over 11 billion monthly searches. People are searching for relevant and timely content – like product and services information, local content, news, deals, how-to videos and behind-the-scenes photos, and other interesting stories they can consume and share. While Google+ is in its infancy, stick to Google's roots and publish informative content about your brand that customers will find relevant and share with others. It never hurts to ask your community directly what type of content they want from you on this platform.

5. Take Advantage of Google+ Features to Engage

How to Build an Effective Google+ Brand Strategy

If you've been thoughtful about the last four steps, you should have a solid foundation for a Google+ publishing strategy that aims to engage the right followers with relevant content.

In addition to a text-based status update, each post can attach a photo, video, and URL link to make the post richer. Directly engage your followers by asking questions that start discussions and lead to +1s and Circle shares. The more users engage with a post, the greater the viral effect, and thus, brand awareness. This keeps your brand top-of-mind and drives interest in your offering. Here are other Google+ specific features you should consider.

  • Google's +1 button can be placed virtually anywhere, including your website, articles and even ads. Each time a user +1s your content, the action creates a personal recommendation for your brand that appears in the user's stream and is shared with his Circles. By strategically placing +1 buttons on engaging content and connecting them to your page, you'll create a targeted Google+ experience for your fans.
  • Hangouts give brands a very cool opportunity to connect directly with customers in a video chat environment. Think about virtual wine tasting events, Q&A sessions, new product demos, webinars and customer service calls — all with a real, live person on the other side of the camera.
  • Cross-product integration opportunities abound with Google products like YouTube, Picasa, Reader, Documents and Calendar. There is tremendous opportunity to effectively integrate those elements into Google+ to engage followers even more deeply.

6. Analyze and Adjust Your Google+ Strategy

Google has made a huge investment in Google+, and it's here to stay for awhile. Because of this cross-product integration, brands may see some exciting effects from Google+ social activity, like increased lift in search results and traffic from +1 buttons embedded in display ads. Consider how to integrate Google+ into your overall Google strategy — from SEO and ads to mobile and video –and view it as the social layer that ties all Google-owned properties together.

Brands should stay focused on follower growth and improved engagement rates by analyzing Circle trends and user behavior. Regularly assess data to improve page performance and brand awareness. The more viral your content, the more engaged the audience and the greater the likelihood of new users following your brand.

Managing Presence on Google+ Pages

Navigating a new social platform can be challenging, especially for larger brands that have a global presence, multiple brands and millions of fans. Last week Google announced its relationships with a handful of third-party social media management software companies that will provide tools for brands to manage their presences on Google+, including the ability to manage Circles, publish to Google+ and access analytics. These tools will help streamline publishing to multiple Google+ pages and effectively manage Circles in a scalable manner, while enabling access to analytics across a brand's Google+ presence.

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Fuhu Nabi Kids Tablet

Posted: 25 Dec 2011 06:10 AM PST

Fuhu Nabi Kids Tablet

Fuhu Nabi Kids Tablet

  • Pros

Tons of preloaded content. Mini HDMI port. Child-safe tablet experience.

  • Cons

Slow. Frequently unresponsive. Rubber case is removable. Low-res screen.

  • Bottom Line

The Nabi Kids Tablet offers a safe and content-rich way for kids to enjoy the tablet experience in an affordable and rugged package. But issues with speed and responsiveness might make some kids cranky.

With tablets finding their way into more and more households, there is a sensible need for a child-friendly solution. For most, giving your child free rein over an expensive device like the iPad 2 ($499-$829, 4.5 stars) may not be the best idea. Not only are parents afraid of damage to their precious pads, but they should also be concerned about exposure to inappropriate content. That's where Fuhu's Nabi Kids Tablet ($199.99, sold exclusively at Toys R Us) steps in. The 7-inch  tablet features two distinct Android environments; one sheltered interface catering to kids and one nearly full featured, traditional Android interface. The Nabi is not a toy, but it is also not quite a tablet either. It packs a collection of pre-loaded apps and content, and a customizable child-safe interface, in a tablet that comes with a thick rubber bumper. But some problems with functionality and responsiveness hold the Nabi tablet back.  

Design and Display
The first thing you will notice about the Nabi is its striking red, oversized rubber bumper. This thing is really solid and looks like it could withstand most anything a child might throw at it (or throw it at). But the bumper isn't integrated into the tablet; it's just a peel-off gel case. It's too easily removable and doesn't make the tablet waterproof. It does offer solid drop protection, but it also makes the Power and Volume buttons difficult to press.

Under the rubber bumper is an unassuming white plastic slab. Together with the bumper, the Nabi measures 10.6 by 7.7 by 3.5 inches (HWD) and weighs 1.2 pounds; bigger and heavier than the Kindle Fire ($199, 4 stars) at 7.5 by 4.7 by .45 inches (HWD) and 14.6 ounces, but far better equipped for the rigors of playtime. The Nabi sports a 7-inch, 800-by-480-pixel TFT display, a low resolution you're more likely to find on a phone than a tablet. It's an upgrade over child-oriented tablets like the LeapFrog LeapPad Explorer's ($99, 4.5 stars) 480-by-272-pixel display, but not as nice as the 1,024-by-600 screens on high-quality 7-inch tablets like the the Kindle Fire or Nook Tablet ($249, 4 stars). The screen is bright, and viewing angles are pretty narrow. The biggest problem with the Nabi's display is unresponsiveness. In my tests, it often took multiple touches to get the desired response. This was while navigating through the tablet's interface, and playing games like Cut the Rope.

The tablet is equipped with a mini HDMI port, so you can connect it to an HDTV for playback, and a front-facing camera. For connectivity, there's 802.11b/g Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.

OS, Apps, Performance
The real draw of the Nabi Kids Tablet is the kids-only interface it lays on top of the now-obsolete Android 2.2. Kidz Mode is a child-safe, stripped-down environment that basically consists of oversized app icons, as well as shortcuts to Nabi's child-friendly Web and multimedia content. Any parent worried about what kind of trouble their kids can get into will appreciate the walled-off nature of Kidz Mode.

Parents can customize what apps appear in Kidz Mode, deciding for themselves what is or is not appropriate for their child. The tablet comes preloaded with games, educational apps, and childrens' books and videos. You get Angry Birds and Cut the Rope, 30 preloaded childrens' books with audio tracks for reading along, and Fooz Kids University, which is math training software for elementary schoolers. Kidz Mode also features a section of kid-safe Web shortcuts to third-party sites like Cartoon Network.

Though the browser supports Flash, which is used heavily in the third-party websites, the games and content didn't work very well on the Nabi in my tests. The sites were clearly meant to be enjoyed on a real computer, with little mobile, let alone tablet, optimization. For instance, one Cartoon Network link leads to a Flash-based game, which loads properly, but requires keyboard and mouse controls to work, which the Nabi lacks.

There's also an "adult" interface called Mommy Mode, which is straight Android 2.2 with no Google services. I was able to download the Amazon App Store and install a much wider variety of apps through that, all of which can also be used in Kidz Mode. There are apps out there that provide similar sheltered-tablet experiences, but Fuhu's comes with the most high-quality content. The Nabi trumps the competing Vinci Tab ($389 plus $99/year, 2.5 stars) with a lower price, more content, more flexibility and Wi-Fi to access kids' Web sites and load additional apps. The Vinci has no Wi-Fi and offers a limited collection of apps and content that you must pay a yearly subscription to access.

The Nabi is powered by a dual-core 1.1GHz ARM Cortex-A9 processor with 4GB of storage. These specs are pretty modest, at best, leading to slow performance, though the 4GB of storage should be enough for most of the apps you'd want. There's also a microSD card slot to expand that storage; it worked fine with our 32 and 64GB SanDisk cards. Kidz and Mommy modes both suffered from choppy, slow animations, and, as mentioned earlier, the screen was frequently unresponsive. Though my 4-year-old neice seemed unphased by the problems, I was frustrated. When apps crashed, she would simply wait and restart them. Swiping through home screens was almost always delayed and I routinely had to press app icons multiple times before anything would launch.

The 1.3-megapixel front-facing camera takes some poor-quality pictures, but the Nabi does come with a "create your own book" app that utilizes the camera, which kids can use to add their picture to their books.

The Nabi Kids Tablet offers an interesting solution for parents who don't want to risk leaving their expensive tablets unsupervised with their children. The rubber bumper, even though it's removable, helps protect it, and Kidz Mode makes sure your kids only view safe content.

If you're in the market for a child-specific tablet, the LeapPad Explorer is definitely more of a toy than the Nabi, something that some parents might prefer. It offers an experience and interface that are better suited for younger children, which may or may not be an advantage over the Nabi depending on the age of your child. It's also half the price.

You can also just buy a $200 Kindle Fire, slap a sturdy case on it, and load a Kids Mode app, but you'll have fewer tip-of-your-fingers options to entertain your children. My niece really enjoyed the Nabi, playing games and coloring pictures all the way until her bedtime, and her parents appreciated the ability to stream Netflix to their HDTV. Though it may not be the fastest or prettiest tablet out there, it'll survive most abuse and, unlike like the LeapPad and Vinci, it has the potential to grow with your child. Not only can the content be expanded, but when you think your child is ready, you can give him or her access to the full Android adult experience. If you have a child who just can't keep their hands off your precious tablet, the Nabi should keep them interested for quite a while.

Spec Data

CPU AMLogic Cortex A9
Processor Speed 1.1 GHz
Operating System Google Android 2.3 or earlier
Screen Resolution 800 x 400 pixels
Screen Size 7 inches
Battery Type Supported Rechargeable
Storage Capacity (as Tested) 4 GB
Dimensions 10.6 x 7.7 x 3.5 inches
Weight 2.6 lb
Networking Options 802.11b, 802.11g, 802.11n
Email Access Dedicated email app
Web Browser Yes
Flash support Yes
Camera(s) 1 front-facing
Video Chat No
Music Playback Formats AAC, MP3, WAV, WMA
Video Formats AVI, DivX, MPEG4, WMV, QuickTime, H.264, XVid
Fuhu Nabi Kids Tablet 

Nabi Kids Tablet : Angle

The first thing you will notice about the Nabi is its striking red, oversized rubber bumper.
Fuhu Nabi Kids Tablet 

Nabi Kids Tablet : Rubber Case

Unfortunately, the bumper isn't integrated into the tablet; it's just a peel-off gel case, the kind you could get for any tablet.
Fuhu Nabi Kids Tablet 

Nabi Kids Tablet : Front

There's also an "adult" interface called Mommy Mode, which is straight Android 2.2 with no Google services.
Fuhu Nabi Kids Tablet 

Nabi Kids Tablet : Profile

The Nabi also has a mini HDMI port, a front facing camera, and Bluetooth connectivity as well as 802.11b/g Wi-Fi.
Fuhu Nabi Kids Tablet 

Nabi Kids Tablet : Angle

Kidz Mode is a child-safe, stripped-down interface that basically consists of oversized app icons, as well as shortcuts to Nabi's child-friendly web environment and multimedia content.

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Engineers unleash car-seat identifier that reads your rear end

Posted: 25 Dec 2011 04:33 AM PST

Engineers unleash car-seat identifier that reads your rear end

Engineers unleash car seat identifier that reads your rear end

Cars of the future may use the driver's rear end as identity protection, through a system developed at Japan's Advanced Institute of Industrial Technology. A report surfaced earlier this month that researchers there developed a system that can recognize a person by the backside when the person takes a seat. The system performs a precise measurement of the person's posterior, its contours and the way the person applies pressure on the seat. The developers say that in lab tests, the system was able to recognize people with 98 percent accuracy.

The car-seat team led by Associate Professor Shigeomi Koshimizu wants to commercialize their work as an anti-theft product in two to three years if automakers agree to collaborate. The Institute began working on the seat idea last year.

The bucket seat's lower section is lined with pressure sensors. Pressure is measured on a scale from 0 to 256. A total of 360 sensors in the seat send their information to a laptop, which aggregates the information, generates the key data and produces a precise map of the seated person.

As the process suggests, the device is targeted for use as a personal identifier and is being promoted as a useful option to having to use more familiar biometric techniques. The researchers have discussed advantages to this seat identifier.

They say that traditional biometric techniques such as iris scanners and fingerprint readers cause stress to people undergoing identity checks, while the simple act of getting seated carries less psychological baggage. Their other point is that other technologies such as fingerprint scanning can be compromised when sensor surfaces are unclean, or when there is poor lighting as in iris scanning, contaminating results.

Koshimizu sees the possibilities of this device being used beyond auto-theft identity protection to a device for security identification in office settings, where users log on to their PCs as they sit down.

Their work at the institute is yet another indicator that sensors are in focus in many areas of today's research. Sensor vendors are quick to remind everyone that sensors will be around us everywhere, in the home to remind residents to take medicine and turn things on and off, to parking meters transmitting data, to sensors in transport.

Car sensor technologies are being developed that bridge varied car scenarios from driver only to vehicles providing dual driver/self-driving modes to self-driving cars. Research efforts are resulting in sensors that tell the driver there are obstacles ahead along with a range of sophisticated sensors envisioned for robotic cars on tomorrow's highways.

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