This week we talk 4D LIDAR technology self-driving car sensor system, free resource launches to help charity leaders embrace digital, AI could eliminate world famine and more!

car sensory system aeva
Image: Aeva

Aeva launch 4D LIDAR technology self-driving car sensor system.  

Aeva are a relative infant on the Silicon Valley startup scene.  Despite only being founded last year, they are already making waves…or should that be tsunamis…in the autonomous car world.  

This week sees them launch a next-generation version of LIDAR, the mapping technology which works on the principle of radar, but instead uses light from a laser to help self-driving cars measure distance and “see” the road ahead.

This particular piece of tech is a tiny box able to directly measure objects in any given scene.  Not only can it evaluate the distance between objects, but also the velocity of these objects and where they are in relation to one another.  Vehicles can then accurately predict variables such as direction, stopping distance and spatial placement.

It is probably best described by the ex-Apple co-founders themselves:

“Our product has access to the lowest levels of data. We can measure pixels on certain objects, like a human limb. We can measure the velocity and motion of a pedestrian or object, and we can predict the future motion of those objects pretty accurately.”

Aeva are describing their product as a 4D LIDAR system; one which combines hardware and software thus doing a superior job of capturing data about its surroundings.  It is essentially a better pair of eyes for the AI algorithms that power self-driving systems on the road today. Aeva are hoping it will become an industry-standard product for use in commercial applications.  

Indeed, they believe that they have a particular USP which sets this product apart.   

Co-Founder Rezk states that the Aeva box is “able to not only improve the performance of traditional LIDARs but also give each LIDAR point an instantaneous measurement of velocity, unlocking the temporal element that is often overlooked and missed”.  He goes on to say that “everything here is a direct measurement rather than any algorithms involved…our 4D LIDAR tech can measure the depth, reflectivity, and velocity in a single laser shot, all instantaneous. No need to spend time looking at frames.”

Tech such as this is helping to power the future of self-driving systems on a wider scale.  Autonomous cars are becoming more commonplace and the software that powers them is becoming increasingly more demanding and data-centric.

The startup does face competition from other larger, better-established tech companies, however… Alphabet’s Waymo, Uber, Tesla and Apple among them.  It is also probable that existing LIDAR providers such as Velodyne are working on similar systems of their own.

Aeva do not seem worried, however, and are hoping to carve out their own space with their next-generation advancement.  Indeed, they have already caught the eye of carmakers, some of which are already taking into account the company’s new sensor when designing future commercial vehicles.  

For the time being though, it does seem as though Aeva have a state of the art product on their hands.  With the team hard at work improving their pioneering system and the interest from the automobile manufacturers at large, it certainly would appear that the startup are well on their way to realising their dream;  becoming a foundational backbone to the emerging autonomous vehicle market.

Free resource launches to help charity leaders embrace digital.

male hands typing on a keyboard laptop
A new 10 part course has been launched to help charity leaders embrace digital transformation within the sector.

A new 10 part course has been launched to help charity leaders embrace digital transformation within the sector.  It has been designed to educate industry chief execs about the improvements digital transformation can have on their organisation, communications and fundraising opportunities.

The “Why do Digital?”  course is an email-based communication program and has been devised by digital marketing agency Platypus Digital.   It focuses on why digital should be at the heart of all charity strategy.

The agency says that much of the current conversation around digital technology in charities revolves around what they should do and how to get started, instead of underlining the importance of digital commitment at a senior level.

Platypus Digital Managing Director Matt Collins said;

“We looked around the current messages about the adoption of digital in charities, and realised the question ‘Why should we do digital?’ simply wasn’t being answered – everything covered what to do and how to do it,”

Subjects covered include the importance of following trends, the importance of digital fundraising, ensuring communications focus on digital first and the importance of creating a digital culture within an organisation.

The course can be accessed via the ‘why do digital?’ website and has been designed with busy industry chiefs in mind.   They can expect to receive 10 emails over the course of 10 days. Each is designed to be read on the daily commute and is estimated to take approximately 2 minutes to read.

Platypus are of the belief that a lack of budget is the factor that most affects the decision surrounding a move toward digital.  Funding digital transformation is difficult for any business…especially though for the non-profit sector who are well documented to have financial struggles.

They believe that by educating decision makers about why it should do digital (and its potential financial rewards) will soon find that to be less of a problem.  

AI could eliminate world famine

Golden field of barley crops growing on farm at sunset or sunrise
AI could help end world famine.

Artificial Intelligence has been a fundamental part of the Foodtech revolution.  It has a massive reach across the whole gamut of food production and preparation.  It monitors milk quality in farms, powers burger-flipping robots in restaurants, and through the guise of a voice assistant or chatbot, it holds your hand as you follow a recipe in your own kitchen.   It is undeniable that AI has transformed the way we eat, cook and order food.  

Not only has it been the answer to the domestic “first world” problems facing the developed world, it was suggested this week that AI could also be the answer to the global famine crisis sweeping across some parts of the globe.

Speaking at Stanford University earlier this week, World Bank President, Jim Yong Kim, voiced his belief that AI could be used to “end famine”.  By detecting potential crises before they begin, it is thought that aid workers may be given as much as a six-month advance warning to stabilise potential famine before it becomes uncontrollable.

The bank is teaming up with Amazon, Microsoft and Google to create Artemis.  A system that is able to mine and analyse data from a variety of sources such as satellites, weather records and food prices to detect potential hazards.

Artemis is indeed a unique proposal.  Never before has there been a system that could alert to the danger of famine so early in the process.  Famine is classified in five stages, from “minimal” food insecurity, through “crisis” stage to that of “famine”.  

Even more remarkably, the system can then be linked to a funding mechanism which automatically releases relief money once certain thresholds are met…critically prior to a famine being officially declared.  Modelling of the 2017 famine in Somalia suggested that intervening before stage five could have reduced aid costs by up to 30%.

Artemis is currently being tested in South Sudan, Niger, Mali, Chad and Somalia, and is expected to go live in “a small group of countries” by the middle of 2019.

Mr Kim was visiting Silicon Valley to discuss a range of potential projects with technology firms and is urging them to use their huge skill, resource and bottom line to do more to fight global poverty.  He is partnering with LinkedIn to build skills databases, with Airbnb to bring South Africans into the tourism industry and with Alibaba to give small business in Africa more access to capital and accounting services.

There is, of course, another benefit to including such big names in the project.  Mr Kim stated that the involvement of technology companies helped create “political will” in donor countries.  It added a layer of endorsement and helped to convince them that early intervention was worthwhile.

However, there are some factors that Artemis is unable to predict.  Political instability and civil war, for example, are two huge contributory factors in the infrastructure of a country.  Issues such as these are often sudden and by their very nature take everyone by surprise.

Indeed, Chris Hillbruner, a senior adviser at the hunger monitoring agency Fews Net, said: “We have the best science in the world backing up the assumptions we make about rainfall. It’s a lot harder to build assumptions about what is going to happen with a conflict issue or a political issue six months or eight months in the future.”

Industry warns Hammond’s Digital Tax will damage UK Tech Startups.

Man using calculator and calculate bills in home office.
Tories proposed introducing Digital Tax.

Birmingham has been playing host to the Conservative Party conference this week.  There was lots that caught our attention, but ‘dancing’ aside, this particular proposal stood out.

During his speech on Monday, Chancellor Philip Hammond announced government plans to introduce a unilateral “digital services tax” on UK technology companies.  

Hammond claims that his target are the sharks of the tech world…the giants with huge billion $ valuations…those that are in the best position to shoulder this added tax burden.  According to Dom Hallas from The Coalition for a Digital Economy though, the real losers would be the comparable minnows. Not the tech giants at all, but growing British tech businesses and the entrepeneurs behind them.  He goes on to say;

“The true cost will be in hurting innovative British companies who want to develop at home then grow globally.”

It has also been warned that it would smother investment in start-ups and damage innovation across the technology sector. 

This sentiment is supported by Rob Kniaz, a partner at Hoxton Ventures, an early-stage backer of UK startups including Babylon, Deliveroo and Darktrace:  “It seems unwise to introduce additional headwinds to the UK technology sector in these uncertain times… Now is not the time to rock the boat whilst we’ve so many other challenges.”

The renewed effort by the UK to ensure that big tech businesses are taxed fairly comes at a time when European governments struggle to agree upon a consensus on how to change tax rules.  It comes after plans from earlier in the year that the Treasury were considering temporary measures to tax a proportion of the revenues tech companies generate in the UK. These would be imposed until an international deal could be reached on how to tax companies which report sales and profits in different jurisdictions.

Amazon’s UK arm paid just £4.6m in tax last year on revenues of just under £2bn, while the most recent filings from Facebook showed its 2016 tax bill stood at £5.1m as revenues almost quadrupled to £842.4m. The social network is expected to reveal how much it paid in tax in 2017 later this week.   At this time, both Amazon and Facebook declined to comment.

Figures such as these have driven the desire to look tough on tech, and not all UK companies have rejected the idea. Tom Hambrett, General Counsel at Revolut, said the UK FinTech company was “not necessarily opposed” to the plan. He believes “online shopping and automated technology is clearly having a big impact on the British high street, so it’s only right that tech companies pay their fair share so that they can help reinvest the money to boost innovation and create jobs elsewhere” .

Under the proposed EU-wide rules, only companies which generate a global annual revenue of €750m (£665m) and EU revenue of €50m would be taxable.   However, Hammond stated that the UK would “go it alone” if an international agreement could not be reached.

Immigration plans following Brexit have left a question mark over the future availability of tech talent, and now there is a danger that investment in the thriving British tech Startup industry may also suffer.  London was recently crowned THE startup hotspot of Europe with the startups of our capital raising £2.45 billion in venture funding in 2017.  

Here at Ignite Digital we certainly hope that Spring 2019 doesn’t change its status on the tech world stage.  While it is crucial that a fair solution is found, it is concerning that such plans come at a time when the future of British tech (and the investment in it) is so uncertain.

Fast.ai launches fastai v1, a deep learning library for PyTorch

Abstract technology big data visualization. Futuristic space infographic. Information aesthetic background design. Vector illustrationAbstract technology big data visualization. Futuristic space infographic. Information aesthetic background design. Vector illustration
Fast.ai launches fastai v1, a deep learning library for PyTorch

Startup Fast.ai built its reputation around offering free and opensource deep learning tuition.  This week they launch fastai V1, a deep learning library designed to help developers carry out AI related tasks using Python.

Fastai V1 will run on top of Facebook’s PyTorch framework and contains some of the most popular algorithms for image classification and natural language tasks. In practice, this means that models can be created and run in just a few lines of code.

The project which has been under development for 18 months, launches the same day as PyTorch 1.0, which includes deeper integrations with Caffe2, ONNX.  It can also be used alongside cloud providers such as Google Cloud and Azure Machine Learning, as well as hardware providers, Intel and Qualcomm.

Fast.ai co-founder, Jeremy Howard said of the product that;

“Fast.ai is the first deep learning library to provide a single consistent interface to all the most commonly used deep learning applications for vision, text, tabular data, time series, and collaborative filtering. This is important for practitioners because it means if you’ve learnt to create practical computer vision models with fastai, then you can use the same approach to create natural language processing (NLP) models or any of the other types of the model we support,”

Due to its very nature, Python has become almost synonymous with AI development.   Fast, robust, portable, and scalable it has become the language of choice for some of the world’s most popular AI frameworks.  Indeed, TensorFlow, Deap, and Chainer are all designed for Python.

Interested developers can download it today from conda, pip, or GitHub.  As mentioned earlier, it can be used across the  Google Cloud Platform.  it also works with AWS SageMaker and with pre-configured environments with the AWS Deep Learning AMIs.

We’d love to hear what our developer friends make of the library.  Please leave your thoughts in the comments below!

Are you looking for a new role within tech or digital? You’re in the right place. Check out our job portal here. 

About the author: I work hard to find the best opportunities for my candidates and the best talent for my clients. My honest and pragmatic approach helps me to build lasting relationships and deliver real value.  I have extensive experience helping organisations overcome their critical challenges in the digital environment, and have worked with everything from start-ups to major global brands.

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