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Friday Tech Blitz: Connected Cars… Skintight Spacemen… Buffett’s Billion-Dollar Bet

The fast-growing world of connected cars is about to become… er, “less connected.” Literally.

South Korean automaker, Hyundai, has struck a deal with telecom giant, Verizon (VZ) to begin offering 3G wireless web connectivity in its cars this year.

In May, Hyundai’s upscale Genesis model will become the first of the company’s vehicles to feature the 3G service, which will eventually upgrade to 4G service and be offered in all Hyundai models. Hyundai’s fellow South Korean firm and sister manufacturer, Kia, will also roll out the service this year.

Among the benefits, customers can expect: Added assistance (such as navigation, traffic and nearby recreational activities), vehicle safety and diagnostics and increasingly popular “infotainment” services.

The Hyundai-Verizon deal will work on the automaker’s Blue Link in-car control system and use Google (GOOG) search and maps, plus functionality with Google Glass. In fact, Glass will allow drivers to start their cars remotely, unlock doors, find gas stations, and get roadside assistance.

Gone are the days when the most important considerations in consumers’ buying decisions on actual performance-based metrics, such as fuel consumption and power. That’s so last decade.

These days, in-car technology is the top, feature for almost 40% of today’s buyers, according to an Accenture survey.

Hence, automakers and telecoms alike are keen to capitalize on this fast-growing connected car area. According to HIS Automotive, there will be 152 million cars worldwide connected to the internet by 2020 – up from 23 million today.

Hyundai’s deal with Verizon comes hot on the heels of similar wireless connectivity partnerships between General Motors (GM) and AT&T (T) and Tesla (TSLA) and AT&T. GM’s 2015 cars will feature the technology later this year, while the Corvette Stingray, Chevrolet Volt, Chevy Impala and Chevy Malibu will be the first of GM’s models to roll out 4G internet, according to Bloomberg.

And in addition to the deal it’s inked with Hyundai and Kia, Verizon has also partnered with Toyota (TM) and Daimler’s (DDAIF) Mercedes-Benz.

Referring to his company’s deal with Hyundai and Kia, Mark Bartolomeo, a vice president at Verizon’s Enterprise Solutions division, sums it up, “The value of this partnership is around infotainment.”

Just keep your eyes on the road while enjoying it!

One Small Step for Man… One Giant Leap for Lycra

Here’s an interesting factoid that current Hollywood blockbuster, “Gravity,” didn’t feature in the film…

According to Space.com, it’s customary for astronauts to grow by as much as 2.75 inches while on space missions.

The reason? Weightlessness, as the astronauts’ spines stretch out in the zero-gravity conditions.

Needless to say, though, while I imagine going to space is an incredible experience, growing that much while up there is an uncomfortable and undesirable side-effect. Especially when the astronauts return to Earth and re-acclimate to normal conditions.

In fact, European Space Agency (ESA) officials say the issue causes severe back pain, with a greatly higher risk of suffering serious injury, like a slipped disc.

The answer? A new, high-tech skinsuit to offset the lack of gravity while in space.

Quite literally, the suit uses space-age technology that essentially compresses the body. It’s not as painful as it sounds – the suit is meant to replicate the same gravitational force that we all quietly experience on Earth.

The design comes from the ESA’s European Astronaut Centre in Cologne, Germany, in collaboration with London’s Kings College and University College London, plus MIT.

The ESA’s Medical Projects & Technology chief, Simon Evetts, describes the process: “Getting the suit to fit correctly was challenging. We needed to create a suit that’s both tight-fitting, but comfortable to wear, while creating the right amount of force in the right places.”

And their prototype will be ready for launch in 2015, when astronaut Andreas Mogensen wears it on the International Space Station.

However, in true cutting-edge tech style, the innovation has applications on Earth, too.

Evetts tells Space.com that, “If the technology is effective in space, it could help the elderly and many people with lower back problems on Earth. Additionally, skinsuit technology could improve the support garments currently used for conditions like cerebral palsy.”

Buffett’s One in 9.2-Quintillion “Gamble”

We’re just a couple of months away from “March Madness” – the annual U.S. college basketball tournament that turns hoops “experts” into fools and brings out the gambler in millions of otherwise-ordinary Americans.

And one legendary American, Warren Buffett – hardly known for zero-sum gambling and speculating – is going “all-in” on the tournament…

He’s betting $1 billion on it.

Has he lost his marbles?

Nope. Actually, this is one of his most ironclad bets ever.

Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway (BRK-B) will insure a $1-billion prize from Quicken Loans to anyone who fills out a perfect bracket in this year’s tournament.

In other words, someone who manages to pick the winner of every single game.

The chances of doing that? Virtually impossible.

Odds of one in 9.2-quintillion, to be exact, according to USA Today.

That’s less than the chance of scoring four holes-in-one in a single round of golf. And if everyone in the United States registered picks, a perfect bracket would occur once every 400 years!

For what it’s worth, though, anyone who wins can either take $500 million upfront, or $25 million a year for the next 40 years.

So what’s the point?

Well, it’s a bit of a gimmick, to be honest – some easy publicity for Quicken Loans and, indeed, Buffett himself. But there are 20 prizes of $100,000 for the brackets that come closest to perfection.

So in the words of Dirty Harry, I guess you’ve got to ask yourself one question: “Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya?”

Enjoy the weekend,

Martin Denholm

Martin Denholm

, Managing Editor

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