Man Working Tech Job

Will The Pandemic Encourage More People To Switch To A Career in Tech?

There is no denying that the pandemic has caused much disruption to businesses and jobs across the globe. Many of the freedoms of working that we once took for granted, such as the ability to perform to a live audience or setting up your own beauty salon at home are now wrapped in restrictions and uncertainty about the future. In fact, it has been reported that the arts & entertainment sector has been one of the worst sectors affected by the pandemic, with some still out of work since lockdown was first announced in March.

Clearly there will be a significant number of people who will need to reconsider their work options, at least in the short term, if their previous career option has become untenable. Whilst this is practical and realistic advice, it can be a real blow to those who have invested their energy, time and money into their career and perhaps had to make significant sacrifices in order to get where they are. Such discussions and encouragement around a career move should be approached empathetically, understanding that it is a fairly life changing decision for some and one that does not come from a place of willing.

Recently, the UK government released an advert which was designed to encourage people within the arts sector to consider retraining to a career in technology. It had the picture of a ballet dancer tying her shoes on the front with the words, “Fatima’s next job could be in cyber (she just doesn’t know it yet) Rethink, Reskill Reboot”. Whilst you can see the intention behind the advert, it wasn’t received well. The campaign received much criticism from the arts sector and beyond, with some describing it as ‘patronizing’ and ‘clearly showing the lack of support for the arts sector’.

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The government was quick to distance itself from the messages contained within the advert, and it was instead attributed to CyberFirst, a programme led by the National Cyber Security Centre to encourage young people to consider careers in the tech sector. It was part of a long-standing programme to promote STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) to the younger generation as it has been widely recognized that there is a shortage of new talent moving into these positions.

What is clear is that the pandemic has led to a greater awareness of the digital economy and the importance it plays in our future. From the development of vaccines, to the building of COVID-apps, to the expansion of cloud-based services to enable businesses to operate virtually, there are many areas which have flourished as a result of the pandemic. In fact, reports suggest that jobs in the tech sector have grown by 36% since the lockdown peak, according to the government’s Digital Economy Council. They revealed that software developers were within the five most advertised roles in many UK cities. The demand for people with cloud skills has increased by 22%, cyber skills increased by 22% and jobs requiring skills in artificial intelligence (AI) grew by 44%.

One common misconception is that STEM jobs require a certain type of person, perhaps one who is very technically minded and enjoys subjects like complex maths and physics. John Michaelis, an AI consultant and author of You ++ argues that people do not just need digital skills when it comes to considering a career in tech and that a great many other attributes are beneficial. In an open letter to the UK government on his LinkedIn profile, Mr. Michaelis said, “[people] need to be more aware of, and use their personal attributes, emotional intelligence, empathy, critical thinking, abstract thinking and creativity. It is using these skills that will lead to financial and personal fulfilment in the future.”

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Mr Michaelis also believes that the pandemic has brought into sharp contrast the skills deficit we have in society. He went on to say, “I passionately believe that skills development is a critical issue. The current institutional approach to developing the curriculum and course content has become irrelevant. We need skills to equip people for the future; therefore, we need people developing the curriculum who are already “living the future.”

Whilst for many, the prospect of starting an entirely new career is extremely daunting, comfort can be taken from the fact that there are a huge variety of jobs within the tech sector which can utilise existing skills in ways you never thought possible. From a professional game tester through to a ‘Chief Listening Officer’ (yes this is actually a job), the possibilities really are endless once you start looking. And as we continue to move towards an ever-more digitalized society, more innovative and previously unheard of jobs will emerge, presenting the workforce with a completely new set of career options.

Google Search

Google Unveils ‘Project Mineral’ Prototype Robots

As the human population continues to grow, the issue of food production continues to be of primary concern. In a bid to help farmers improve their crop yields, Google’s parent company, Alphabet, has revealed its innovative new robot prototypes which are designed to inspect and feedback data on every plant in a field, one by one.

The robots look a little like a car wash in design, comprising a rectangular structure with pillars either side which allows them to roll through the fields without touching the plants or their surroundings. The goal of these robots is to help collate extensive information about exactly how crops grow so that this can be used to help improve crop yields in the future.

The actual brains behind the creation is X company, which is part of Alphabet. It was formed to create radical new technologies to help solve some of the world’s hardest problems. According to the company website, X company is ‘a diverse group of inventors and entrepreneurs who build and launch technologies that aim to improve the lives of millions, even billions, of people.’ The website reveals that their ultimate goal is 10x impact on the world’s most intractable problems, not just 10% improvement. X company is described as approaching projects with the ‘aspiration and riskiness of research with the speed and ambition of a startup’.

 

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Speaking about the project on their blog, X company explains that the world’s population is expected to grow exponentially, with some reports suggesting that the 7.8 billion population in 2020 will grow to 8.6 billion by mid-2030, 9.8 billion by mid-2050 and 11.2 billion by 2100. The current methods of food production are simply going to be able to sustain the populations of the future, and so there need to be some pretty significant changes in how we produce food in order to meet future demand. This is why the team has decided to focus their latest efforts on marrying technology with the agricultural sector to try and help solve this global conundrum.

Currently, farmers do not have detailed ways of understanding exactly what is contributing to the growth of individual plants, and so at best, blanket approaches are adopted which can help to improve the quality or quantity of the overall yield. But by drilling down to key factors influencing the development of each individual plant, much more data can be gathered to help really understand what is going on behind the scenes, in terms of both genetic and environmental factors.

Testing of the buggies has been underway for several years already, in strawberry fields in California and soybean fields in Illinois. The robots have been recording a host of information including high quality images of each plant, counting and classifying every berry and bean. In addition, the recording of other important factors has taken place such as the size of the fruit, the area of the leaf and the height of the plant. By inputting all of this rich data into a machine-learning system, it has been possible to start highlighting patterns or vital information which could help farmers to better understand the optimal conditions for crop growth.

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The benefits of robots for the farming sector is evident given the struggles already faced by those who are battling to remain viable against a whole host of potential threats. Climate change and the devastation of natural habits has led to crops being devastated by everything from locust plagues to flooding. Obviously these kinds of threats can’t necessarily be avoided with technology, but it was pertinent to mention as it highlights just how fragile the industry is and how quickly things can take a turn for the worst.

The reality is that most farmers are already working to extremely tight margins and so any kind of savings or gains in efficiencies that they can make are likely to be warmly welcomed. Poor crop production can decimate a farmer’s income practically overnight and so helping them to better understand the contributing factors in crop development is certainly going to be beneficial.

That said, the question of data ownership and control has been raised, as there will naturally be a national interest at stake in understanding the trends associated with accelerated crop production. There is also the safety and security of the data too, as the farming industry can be extremely competitive and no farmer in the land is going to risk having their farm hijacked. The farming sector is likely to be reluctant to adopt any technology which could put their operation at jeopardy, whilst at the same time aware of the dangerous line they walk if they opt to continue as they are. Ultimately farmers know that something needs to change, and if they fail to do so, they run the risk of falling by the wayside.

Despite the promising prospects, Project Mineral is not likely to be available commercially any time soon. Reports suggest that trials are currently taking place with breeders and farmers in Argentina, Canada, South Africa and the United States.

UK Busy Street

The UK’s New Three-Tier COVID System

After the coronavirus spread from Wuhan and became a nationwide pandemic, the United Kingdom was forced to go into a nationwide lockdown in March after an overwhelming number of cases. After the rate of infection decreased, the UK government began to slowly lift restrictions from June onwards. Towards the end of August and the start of September however, cases began to rise again rapidly, as the UK entered a second wave. As of the 15th of October the daily case rate was 18,980, up 1440 from the previous week, and the daily death figures at 138. Some argue that the sharp rise in cases in the UK is due to increased testing capabilities, a feat that the UK government was unable to implement swiftly early in the pandemic. Whether, testing capabilities mean that the daily figure is similar to that at the start of the UK lockdown or not, the surge of cases has meant that restrictions are once again being put in place across the United Kingdom.

As cases have risen, Britain’s government have put in places new restrictions. Locking down local areas, limiting the social gatherings to six persons by law and shutting pubs and restaurants at 10pm. These procedures have been criticized by many as confusing and not doing enough to combat the virus. The government’s scientific advisory board have apparently advised different methods to combat the virus. In example, the UK government has allegedly been urged to put in place new restrictions or instigate a short, sharp lockdown, otherwise known as a ‘circuit breaker’ by scientific advisors. The circuit-breaker plan was apparently put to parliament three-weeks ago but was rejected.

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Instead, the government has now introduced a three-tier regional system of COVID restrictions across the country, similar to traffic light systems in place in other countries. The tiers in this alert system include: Medium, High and Very-High, with the whole of the UK starting on a Medium tier due to the level of nationwide outbreak. Each of these tiers have their own restrictions:

Tier 1, Medium – The rule of six when meeting indoors or outdoors is in place and pubs and restaurants are required to shut at 10pm.

Tier 2, High – No households are allowed to mix indoors, Rule of six applies outdoors and again, pubs and restaurants will shut at 10pm.

Tier 3, Very High – Further measures may be implemented by local authorities but blanket rules include: No household mixing indoors or outdoors, privately or publicly. Rule of six now applies to outdoor public spaces such as parks. Pubs and Bars will close unless they serve food, some facilities will need to close and restrictions for travelling in and out of the area will apply.

According to The Guardian, when the new system was implemented in early October, ‘Some 28% of England’s population are in tier 2, while 3% are in tier 3…’ The city of Liverpool is the first to be placed in the Tier 3 or ‘very high’ category after the North of England has suffered from a significant number of cases, the majority of the North of England will be under High restrictions.

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Local authorities have been given the power to tighten restrictions if they feel it is necessary and prudent to do so. In places like Liverpool where the highest restrictions have been applied, wedding receptions have been banned and the government has also advised that people should avoid staying overnight in the area.

The rest of the UK is under medium restrictions as standard, with businesses allowed to remain open with the usual level of social distancing requirements – such as face masks, handwashing, two-meters apart and so forth. Those that can work from home have been urged to do so. Areas are normally given notice before it enters into a higher tier, for example London, alongside other areas have been told they will enter Tier Two on the 17th of October.

The Prime minister’s reasoning for the plan was that it would “avoid the misery of a national lockdown”. Stating: “I rule out nothing of course in combating the virus, but we are going to do it with the local, the regional approach that can drive down and will drive down the virus, if it is properly implemented.”

The Guardian reported: ‘The tier system will reportedly be based on the local rate of infection, although the rate of increase might also be taken into account, along with the total number of cases. Johnson said that areas in tier 3 will be those where infection rates are rising rapidly and “where the NHS could soon be under unbearable pressure”.’

Wind Farm

Britain Hopes To Power Homes By Wind Farms By 2030

Despite being a relatively well-known concept, the coronavirus pandemic has starkly underlined humanities problematic relationship with the climate and natural world. As many countries went into nationwide lockdown, the world saw a temporary but significant drop in carbon emissions and many hoped to build on this reduction to work towards a carbon neutral future. Using the devastation of the coronavirus pandemic as a catalyst for real green growth and change. The current UK government had originally set out plans to become carbon zero by 2050, which for many was too late. However, in a new announcement regarding the UK’s green economic recovery, the Prime Minister has committed to accelerating offshore wind by 2030. This is one of many more announcements on a green recovery expected this year.

In a recent speech, at the Conservative party conference, Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that the government will invest in clean energy to create hundreds of thousands of jobs in the next decade. Pledging that £160m will be dedicated to building wind turbines to help the country ‘build back greener’. It will create 2000 jobs in construction and support 60,000 more, by upgrading ports and factories to build the turbines. He announced that “we believe that in 10 years’ time offshore wind will be powering every home in the country, with our target rising from 30 gigawatts to 40 gigawatts. “Your kettle, your washing machine, your cooker, your heating, your plug-in electric vehicle – the whole lot of them will get their juice cleanly and without guilt from the breezes that blow around these islands.”

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In Boris Johnson’s speech, he said the UK would become “the world leader in clean wind energy” and perhaps also in its further green recovery plans. Members of Parliament have begun with wind, as it is a limitless resource on the island that is Britain. Plans included to employ new floating offshore technology, whereby large farms could be placed further out to sea, utilising the strong sea gales directly – both boosting capacity and not monopolizing land space. The Guardian reported: ‘No 10 said the pledge was the first step in a 10-point “Build Back Greener” plan, which the prime minister would set out later in the year and includes new targets and investment into industries, innovation and infrastructure.’ Outlining that it was expected that the government would next look to accelerate the move to electric vehicles, which if it did so by 2030 it would overtake plans set out by other European countries.

The UK’s government website has outlined the following commitments:

‘Confirming offshore wind will produce more than enough electricity to power every home in the country by 2030, based on current electricity usage, boosting the government’s previous 30GW target to 40GW.’

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‘Creating a new target for floating offshore wind to deliver 1GW of energy by 2030, which is over 15 times the current volumes worldwide. Building on the strengths of our North Sea, this brand new technology allows wind farms to be built further out to sea in deeper waters, boosting capacity even further where winds are strongest and ensuring the UK remains at the forefront of the next generation of clean energy.’

‘Setting a target to support up to double the capacity of renewable energy in the next Contracts for Difference auction, which will open in late 2021 – providing enough clean, low cost energy to power up to 10 million homes.’

Prior to this announcement, climate activists and organizations have been urging world governments to include climate change concerns in their economic recoveries. Organizations such as The International Energy Agency set out a sustainable energy plan that provided a blueprint on how governments could encourage economic growth with climate change in mind, by moving towards areas such as clean energy and creating jobs within this area. In the UK’s economic recovery plan, the government focused on infrastructure rolling out a scheme that allowed homeowners to access a grant that would enable them to upgrade their homes with energy-saving improvements such as insulation, double glazing, heat pumps.

Reported in The Guardian, executive director of the environmental NGO Greenpeace UK, John Sauven, commented: “If carried through, [the commitment] would help cement the UK’s global leadership in this key technology. But delivering 40 gigawatts of power on to the grid by 2030 requires action in this parliament. We now need to see the prime minister’s newly found enthusiasm is followed through by knocking down all the barriers that the offshore wind industry faces in delivering its ambition.”

Tesla Sign

Tech Giant Tesla Reveals They No Longer Have A PR Team

In a move which has taken the media by surprise, US electrical vehicle and clean energy firm Tesla has revealed it no longer has a PR team, in what appears to be an industry first for a company of its size and profile.

The relationship between journalists and the PR departments within organizations has long been a complicated one, particularly in disruptive areas like technology. On the one hand you have the reporters who are keen to get their story even if the outcome is less than favorable for the firm in question. On the other, you have the PR department whose role includes protecting the reputation of the brand and trying to avoid as much negative press as possible. So when journalists stopped receiving responses to their enquiries to Tesla a few months ago, there was some confusion over what was going on. Was it a personal snub due to some previous reporting by the journalist that Tesla was unhappy with? Had they changed their contact details? Was there a blanket ban on talking to the press? It certainly had the industry whirring with potential theories.

Well the answer has been finally revealed; it appears that Tesla has gotten rid of the entire PR function at the company, essentially closing all the doors to journalists on a permanent basis.

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The previously buoyant communications team seems to have either left the company or been moved into different roles. According to reports by industry blog Electrek, those that have left include Global Communications Director Keely Sulprizio, who after leaving the company in December was appointed Director of Communications for Impossible Foods in February 2020. In April, Senior Global Communications Manager Danielle Meister moved into a new position at WhatsApp. Another of the firm’s Global Communications Directors, Alan Cooper, had his role changed to Director of Demand Generation in February, but according to this LinkedIn profile he left the company in September. There are still some of the previous communications team still working at Tesla, but all have had their job titles changed to roles such as ‘Director of External Relations and Employee Experience’, ‘Content Lead’ and ‘Project Manager’.

The move is certainly a bizarre one and has got the industry talking about the motivations for removing this important channel of communication. It has long been known that the company’s CEO, Elon Musk, has a strong dislike of the media and feels that they have continued to report negatively and inaccurately about the company and its endeavors. The publicity surrounding vehicle crashes that allegedly involved Tesla cars and their ‘Autopilot’ facility were met with anger from the founder, who claims that other automakers don’t get the same level of scrutiny for accidents involving their cars, which he argued were even more dangerous. There were also multiple reports about production problems with the Model 3 and the firm’s ability to deliver the car at scale , leaving tech publication WIRED to lead with the title, ‘Hey Tesla, how hard can it be to actually make a car?’

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Musk is well known for his vocal media presence and is often seen releasing information, news and commentary about Tesla from his own Twitter feed. Perhaps he decided that the only information he wanted seeding into the media was from his own mouth, and that he would no longer employ a PR team to flame the fires of journalism when invariably the press were likely to report negatively anyway? As someone with extensive PR experience myself, this seems like a very emotive, personal and ego-driven move, rather than one made by a cool-headed independent company.

Whilst Musk remains the figurehead and lead spokesperson for the company, it still needs to be able to stand on its own and operate effectively across all the key business functions, including external communications. Granted, it is likely that some of the core aspects of their communications strategy are continuing at Tesla under different guises, but what this does is send out a resounding message that the press are most certainly no longer welcome.

The trouble with this stance is that it really only serves to antagonize ‘the beast’ that is the global press circuit. Without an official team or even an individual through which to verify the facts before going to press, the likelihood of even more inaccurate and inflammatory information reaching the public sphere is greatly increased. And without any way of checking, it becomes harder for the firm to accuse the press of misrepresentation.

Given the fact that this particular story has gone viral, maybe that’s exactly what Musk wanted in the first place? Perhaps it’s all just part of an elaborate PR campaign that’s being orchestrated from the inside. Or maybe, it’s a strategic mistake that the firm will soon live to regret. Many believe that it won’t be long before Tesla needs to rebuild some kind of formal communications team, but until then it will be an interesting ride for sure.

Apple Store

What To Expect From Apple’s Virtual Event And How To Watch

The day is finally here, after weeks of production delays brought on by the pandemic, Apple is projected to release their new line of iPhone’s along with a whole slew of other products today, October 13th, during a virtual event that will begin at 10 a.m. Pacific Time

In terms of the iPhone 12 and other predictions for what’s to be revealed today, it’s important to note that so far these are all just predictions, however, many of them are based on professional tech blogs and workers who have made correct predictions in the past about the iPhone’s we’ve already seen on the market. 

The iPhone 12 is likely to be the first major revamp of the phone’s physical design since 2017, when Apple revealed the iPhone X which no longer had a home button and used facial recognition technology to unlock the device. Analyst Daniel Ives wrote in a note to investors that this event will be a “once in a decade” moment for the tech giant. 

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“We believe iPhone 12 represents the most significant product cycle for Apple since iPhone 6 in 2014, and it will be another defining chapter in the Apple growth story looking ahead despite a softer consumer spending environment.”

The theme of this year’s event is “speed,” which could mean a variety of things, however, the biggest prediction based on the theme itself is that the next iPhone will have 5G capabilities, a faster chipset, faster display refresh rate, and more! Some individuals also believe that the new line of iPhones will have fingerprint unlocking capabilities through the power or volume buttons, for those who opt not to use the facial recognition feature.

Specifically, Apple is projected to launch the iPhone 12, iPhone 12 Mini, iPhone 12 Pro, and iPhone 12 Pro Max. The Mini is expected to have a 5.4 inch display and will be available in the standard 64 GB, 128 GB, and 256 GB models. 

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The standard iPhone 12 will feature a 6.1 inch display and have the same storage capacity options as the mini. The iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max will have a 6.2 inch display and their storage configuration will likely begin at 128 GB based on past Pro Max iPhone models. The iPhone 12 series is set to begin pricing at $699 with the Mini and will likely go up to $1099 for the Pro models. 

The iPhone 12 series isn’t the only thing fans are looking forward to being announced this afternoon. It’s predicted that Apple will also be releasing over-ear wireless headphones called Airpods Studio, as well as a potential upgrade to HomePod speakers as well. 

Apple might also finally give consumers AirTags, which is something they’ve been teasing for quite some time now. Airtags would work as a GPS tracking service for things like your keys, phone, laptop, or anything else you find yourself consistently using. With the help of Bluetooth technology, one can just log onto any of their devices and track down whatever object they’re looking for that they’ve tagged. 

The Apple event is online-only today due to the Covid-19 pandemic, however, this also means anyone can watch it. Normally, patrons would have to wait until after the event to see all the products launched, but now, customers can simply go onto Apple’s Website at 10 a.m. PT, which is 1 p.m. ET, 6 p.m. BST and 4 a.m. AEDT on Oct. 14.

Rapid Covid Test

Rapid COVID-19 Test To Be Made Equitably Available To The World

In March, the World Health Organization (WHO) launched the Access to Covid tools initiative (ACT accelerator) which brought together ‘governments, scientists, businesses, civil society, and philanthropists and global health organizations’ in a Global collaboration to accelerate ‘development, production, and equitable access to COVID-19 tests, treatments, and vaccines.’ In their latest move, the initiative has now orchestrated a global partnership that will make 120 million rapid, quality and affordable COVID-19 tests more easily available to low- and middle-income countries. The move, will hopefully allow more countries to access the tools they need to better fight against the coronavirus, and not leave those with lower incomes to struggle, making the global fight more equitable overall.

The WHO’s press release detailed that the foundations, companies and organizations involved in the agreement include: Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI), the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics (FIND), the Global Fund, Unitaid, and the World Health Organization (WHO).

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Under the ACT accelerator, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation executed agreements between test manufacturers Abbott and SD Biosensor to make available 120million innovative antigen rapid diagnostic tests that will be priced at a maximum of $5 per unit for six months. The tests, that look similar to a pregnancy test, will provide results in 15 to 30 minutes enabling testing across the world in places that do not have access to laboratories or highly trained health workers. The tests are highly portable, reliable and easy to administer, they should be able to increase the pace and possibility of test and trace procedures everywhere – in both rural and metropolitan settings, centralized and decentralized healthcare settings and of course, under-resourced healthcare systems.

Organizations such as Unitaid and Africa CDC will join forces to rollout these tests in up to 20 countries in Africa from October 2020. An initial $50 million from the COVID-19 Response Mechanism will allow countries to purchase at least 10 million of the new tests at the aforementioned guaranteed price. However, according to The Guardian ‘in return for a volume guarantee from the Gates Foundation, the companies are making 20% of their production available to low- and middle-income countries and 80% to the rest. Germany has already ordered 20m tests and France and Switzerland are following suit.’ Wealthy countries, such as the UK, who have signed up to the ACT Accelerator will also be able to order the tests, however it is not yet clear whether they will do so.

Quoted in The Guardian, Catharina Boehme, CEO of the non-profit FIND (Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics), commented: ‘“We see the pressure of supply building rapidly. That’s why we need this volume guarantee. We needed to secure volumes for low- and middle-income countries, before all the other countries place their orders and the poor populations again lose out. For us the message is about unprecedented collaboration. We are really able to show what can be achieved when the world and leading global health partners come together with a shared priority.”

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Currently North America tests approximately 395 people per 100,000 daily and Europe testa around 243 per 100,000 people daily. In comparison, Africa tests less than 16 people per day, many of whom are in Morocco, Kenya and Senegal only. These rapid antigen tests will ensure that these life-saving procedures are increased in the areas that it is not so easily accessible. In terms of accuracy the companies argue that the tests are about 97% accurate in optimal conditions, reducing to between 80 and 90% in real-world settings. Still reliable to pick up most infections.

In the World Health Organization’s press release the following statements were made in relation to the rollout of these tests and the ACT-Accelerator initiative:

‘Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of WHO, said: “High-quality rapid tests show us where the virus is hiding, which is key to quickly tracing and isolating contacts and breaking the chains of transmission. The tests are a critical tool for governments as they look to reopen economies and ultimately save both lives and livelihoods.”’

‘Mark Suzman, Chief Executive Officer of the Gates Foundation, said: “Testing is an essential tool in the fight against COVID-19. We are delighted to join a partnership that will help ensure that the latest, high-quality diagnostics do not just go to the highest bidder but will be available at an affordable price to the world’s lower income countries. In addition, all of the actions announced today point to the growing success of the ACT-Accelerator in catalyzing global cooperation for a fair and effective response to this global crisis.”’

Ocado

Ocado Faces Legal Challenge Over Its Robot-Operated Warehouse Technology

Online grocer and technology firm Ocado is being sued by a rival company from Norway over claims that it’s robot-operated warehouse technology has infringed their company’s patents.

Automated technology has continued to advance with pace, particularly in areas such as warehouse automation. It has been both a blessing and a curse, opening the way for greater efficiency and scale, but also leading to a mass cull of manual labor jobs. In fact, experts at analysis firm Oxford Economic have predicted that around 20 million manufacturing jobs globally could be replaced by robots by 2030.

The development of new technology and ideas may seem like a creative dream giving way to endless opportunities for business development and growth. However, inventors and companies are keen to wrap up their inventions in watertight patent and copyright legalities to prevent others from cashing in on their ideas without due credit or compensation. This is totally understandable when significant time, effort, resources and money have been put into coming up with the idea; it simply doesn’t make sense to leave the technology open for others to exploit freely, unless it was created from a truly altruistic place of course. It is no surprise therefore that according to Statista, the companies with the most granted U.S. patents includes International Business Machines with 9,262 patents, Samsung Electronics Co Ltd with 6,469, Canon KK with 3,548 and Microsoft Technology Licensing LLC with 3,081 patents.

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Patent challenges are not uncommon particularly in the technology sector, with one source suggesting that the EPO handles around 4,000 oppositions each year. Now it appears that Norwegian firm AutoStore is the last company to mount a legal challenge for patent infringement, this time against Ocado.

AutoStore have filed lawsuits in the UK and the US with the intention of ‘barring Ocado Group Plc and its partners from manufacturing and selling infringing products and importing them into the United States’. In addition they are pressing for financial damages which experts believe could amount to ‘millions of pounds’. If upheld, the consequences for Ocado could be even more significant, as their future plans included rolling out their automated warehouse technology via a number of strategic partnerships. These include alleged agreements with retailers including Kroger, Marks & Spencer and Morrisons.

In a statement which appears on the AutoStore website, Karl Johan Lier, the company’s CEO and President said, “Since 1996, AutoStore has developed and pioneered technology that has revolutionized retail storage and order fulfillment, and is driving the growth of online retail. Our ownership of the technology at the heart of Ocado’s warehousing system is clear. We will not tolerate Ocado’s continued infringement of our intellectual property rights in its effort to boost its growth and attempt to transform itself into a global technology company.”

The connection between AutoStore and Ocado is a complex and interesting one, as there are claims from the former that Ocado is in fact one of their customers, having purchased Autostore technology in 2012. It is argued that its own storage system and robots makes up the foundations of the Ocado’s Smart Platform indicating that the company took inspiration from their technology in order to create their own product. The claims are based on the type of technology which is being used, in addition to the mechanisms inside the robots. According to the Autostore statement, the infringements relate to the ‘fundamental central cavity design of the AS/RS robots; the arrangement of the lifting mechanism that enables those robots to lift and place bins in their cavities; and the robots’ in-wheel motors.’

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It has been reported that a court in Norway has already ruled in favor of Autostore with regards to its ownership of patients relating to the robots’ central cavity, but that Ocado has continued to seek out partnerships and sell the technology ‘as its own’.

Autostore is a successful company, supporting more than 500 installations and 18,000 robots over some 30 countries. It has established a presence in a range of markets, including grocery, healthcare and aviation. It also boasts an impressive customer base which includes ASAD, Best Buy and Lufthansa. It was founded in 1996 as Jakob Hatteland Logistics AS, AutoStore and has continued to retain its position as an innovative robotics technology company, known for inventing the pioneering ‘Cube Storage Automation’ which is considered the densest technology available for the warehousing and logistics industry.

At the time of writing this article, Ocado had indicated that they had not been notified of any legal action, but that they would fight any claims of patent infringement. Simultaneously, it’s share price fell by 5% in an apparent reaction to the allegations. Ironically, earlier in the week Ocado had actually overtaken Tesco as the country’s ‘most valuable grocery retailer on the UK stock market’.

Nest Home Speaker

Everything You Need To Know About Google’s New Home Speaker, Nest Audio

Google is no stranger to creating smart home technology that anyone can use to make their at-home life a little more luxurious. Now, they’ve released their new Nest Audio smart speaker system, which is their next generation of full-size smart speaker for everyday use. The new speaker promises to improve upon speaker volume by an “astounding percentage.” 

Nest Audio is going to replace the original Google Home line of smart speakers, but it will not be replacing the Google Nest, despite their similar names. Google Home Max, Nest Mini, Nest Hub, and Nest Hub Max smart displays will all also remain available as a part of Google’s smart home technology. 

As of right now the Google Store is taking pre-orders for the Nest Audio for $100, but will discount that price by $20 for every two you buy; so if you bought two they would technically cost $90 each. Orders for Nest Audio will begin shipping out in the US, Canada, and India on October 5th and will be available in physical retail establishments starting October 15th. 

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The Nest Audio comes in five pastel colors; chalk, charcoal, sage, sand, and sky blue. The speaker itself is covered in a fabric-like mesh material that is made of 70% recycled plastic. Most tech experts, however, are more concerned about what’s actually different between the Nest Audio and previous Google Home speaker models that it will be replacing. 

The Nest Audio has a 3-inch woofer speaker system, which when compared to Google Home’s single 2-inch model gives off a better bass control with the ability to hit cleaner, higher notes. The quad-core processor internally also gives Nest Audio a much quicker response time and aids the device in emitting a rich, crisp sound. 

The Nest Audio also has a dedicated machine learning chip within it that performs on-device processing when it comes to privacy and response time. Aesthetically, focus groups are obsessing over the “loaf-like” design of the new speakers, claiming it looks sleek and less like an air freshener when compared to previous Google models. 

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One of the major points of contention over this “re-branding” of sorts from Google is whether or not all Google Home speakers will be Nest Audio now or not. As of right now, it’s looking like Google will stick with their tradition of clear branding by embracing the name “Nest across more of their smart home devices in the future.

This renaming has also confused current Google Home speaker users on whether or not they’ll need a new app to control the newer speakers. As of right now Google has two apps that connect to their home technology, one for nest and one for Google Home. The names of the devices have ever matched up with the applications, the Nest app is used mainly for security cameras, and thermostats while Google Home’s app controls the speakers, so Nest Audio will likely sync up with that app. 

There’s no word on any new Google Assistant commands that will be made available with the Nest Audio launch, however the company has claimed that the speaker in general has easier to use controls and sound quality that will work enough to separate it from its predecessors.

UK NHS Tracking App

UK Test and Trace App Launches

On Thursday, the 24th of September, the UK government finally released their test and trace app, called ‘NHS COVID-19’. Using the Apple – Google designed software, the decentralized system will alert users if they have been in contact or proximity with someone who has developed SARS-CoV- 2. The UK government initially pursued its own software but after several technical issues, that included smartphone compatibility, moved to the Apple – Google model. The app was due to be released months ago but after these problems and changes it only began its final public trial in August. Now, however, the app has been approved and is being rolled out nationwide. The government and National Health Service (NHS) are urging UK residents to download and use the app, as its effectiveness will increase with the more people that use it.

The NHS COVID-19 app is available to users aged 16 and over. It utilizes Bluetooth signals, in the background, to detect other app users whilst the smart phone owner goes about their daily life. If a user falls ill with a disease, they will update the status and anonymized alerts will be sent to anyone that they have come into contact with. These people will be advised to self-isolate – although as the alerts are anonymous, this self-isolation is not mandatory nor enforceable unlike the manual test and trace scheme that currently in place. The anonymized data means that the person who has fallen ill will not be identified and those that have been asked to isolate will also not be identified.

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Speaking to BBC Radio 4, Health Secretary Matt Hancock stated that the app: “helps us to find more people who are at risk of having the virus that human contact tracers are unable to find… Everybody who downloads the app will be helping to protect themselves, helping to protect their loved ones, helping to protect their community because the more people who download it, the more effective it will be.” Indeed, as the application detects those within a two-meter proximity to other users it should be able to pick up on people that the user does not know. Further, manual test and tracing takes manpower and time, and replacing this with a digital method will mean that near instantaneous alerts can be sent out to those that have been exposed.

The app also features a venue check-in function and informs users of the risk level of the area that they are in. It also allows you to check symptoms, read the latest advice and features an isolation countdown – should the user be advised to isolate. The app also allows users to order a coronavirus test. The venue check in function will be enforced by the government, and businesses such as pubs and restaurants will be asked to display an official test and trace poster featuring the QR barcode. Those establishments that fail to do so will face fines of up to £1,000. The idea being, that a user can scan the QR code upon entry and should a venue be at the center of a small outbreak, the app can send alerts to all those that have visited advising self-isolation or a coronavirus test.

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The postcode-based indicators should allow people to regularly check on what risk level their local area is at. Major mobile network providers have also made sure the app is free to use, and will not deduct data for accessing the app. Updates have insured that the app is available in multiple languages, and domestic abuse survivors can delete check-ins from the app should their phone be searched by their abuser. Those that have been advised self-isolate may be able to call the NHS hotline to override the command if they do not have the virus, however this feature is not yet confirmed. The struggle facing the UK will be if enough residents do not download and use the app, if the vast majority of the country does not access the app then the contact tracing element will be made less effective.

However, not only are there concerns that the apps data privacy may deter some users, or that only a minority of the population will download the app, but perhaps larger than this, the UK is currently facing test shortages. If users are unable to access a coronavirus test quickly, it will make the process labored and somewhat ineffective. For example, if one person contracts the virus but is unable to get tested or faces weeks of delays to access said test, those that have been exposed may unknowingly develop the virus as well and spread it on, rather than being immediately informed, isolating and accessing a test themselves. Those that have been in contact may receive notifications weeks after the fact at a point where it is almost redundant.