UK named as a global centre for responsible tech innovation.

According to new data compiled by Tech Nation, the UK has been named as the global centre for socially responsible technology innovation.

The research has highlighted that these UK ‘tech for social good’ companies were worth £2.3 billion in 2018, and command a turnover of a massive £732 million.  This is an impressive number, and one which shadows the total generated by the manufacture of consumer electronics here in the UK; a figure which stands at £634 million.

Perhaps most significant though is the promise these companies hold for the thriving tech scene here in the UK.  Nearly half of those companies identified, are startups and are just setting out on their business journey. These exciting and entrepreneurial enterprises are making headway in areas such as edtech, fintech and Artificial Intelligence.

One great, big name example is London based, AI company DeepMind.  They were bought by Google back in 2014. Since then, founders Demis Hassabis and Mustafa Suleyman have been vocal about their desire to address some of the world’s most pressing social and political problems.  They cite healthcare and climate change to be hot topics on their somewhat significant radar.

The success of DeepMind and other for-profit ‘tech for good’ companies like them have knock-on effects for the wider economy.  Indeed, many of these for-profit businesses are pursuing financial and social returns. They are focussing upon using sustainable models; ones which create employment and economic growth, as well as an array of positive societal impacts.

The publication of this research is timely.  It comes at a point when the spotlight is shining upon the social impact of digital technologies.  More and more, consumers are making decisions based upon the ethical credentials of a company and the services they offer.  Tech Nation CEO Gerard Grech remarks;

“…millennials are increasingly driven by the desire to make a meaningful impact on society. Harnessing the huge potential of tech allows us to really think big. We can have both economic growth as well as positively impacting society and the environment.”

Other names disrupting the space are Bulb; a green, renewable electricity supplier and Sweatcoin, who encourage exercise by converting users’ steps into digital currency.

Of the study, Grech concludes;

“This study provides a fascinating analysis of a fast-emerging sector within ‘tech’. These purpose and profit startups range from platforms such as fashion recycling platform Depop to surplus food distribution platform, Olio.”  He goes on to say that “We are witnessing a new driver in tech startups”.

Docker developers can now build Arm containers on their desktops.

It was announced on Wednesday that Docker will team up with Arm to better support developers using the Arm processor on the Docker container platform.

The intention is to make it easier for Docker devs to build their applications for the Arm platform right from their x86 desktops.  They can then deploy them to the cloud, edge and IoT devices. Developers will be able to build their containers for Arm as they do today, just without the need for any cross-compilation.

Formally, developers had to build the containers they wanted to run on the Arm platform on an Arm-based server.  However, using the new system, Docker essentially emulates an Arm chip on the PC for building these images.

Docker EVP of Business Development David Messina said that these accessible, “streamlined” and “simplified processes” will make “x86 developers…Arm developers overnight”.  

It is not just devs who shall benefit from the team up.  Through the collaboration, both Docker and Arm stand to gain.  For the former, this partnership creates new opportunities, especially in areas where Arm chips are already strong; edge and IoT scenarios for example.  Similarly, Arm will strengthen its developer community by making it easier to develop for its platform. It stands to reason. The easier it is to build apps for the platform, the more likely developers are to then run them on servers that feature chips from Arm’s partners.

This new capability will become available as a tech preview when Docker hosts its annual developer conference in San Francisco next week.  On its release, it will work for applications written in Javascript/Node.js, Python, Java, C++, Ruby, .NET core, Go, Rust and PHP.

Both Docker’s Messina and Arm’s VP of Marketing, Mohamed Awad are quick to point out that developers can expect a totally “business as usual” service.  Developers really won’t have to learn anything new to make this all work. All of the usual Docker commands will function as normal. Perhaps Awad puts it best…he says;

“this is about enabling developers and freeing them from lock-in on any particular area and allowing them to choose the right compute for the right job that is the most efficient for them”.

VDOO secures $32m to address security across IoT devices.

Our world is becoming more and more connected.  By 2022, it is estimated there will be a huge 18 billion devices with embedded processors.  Even today, the number of such devices exceeds the number of smartphones used globally.

Just as these numbers continue to grow, so do the opportunities for hackers to use these embedded devices to crack systems, steal information and disturb how these objects work.  

Tel Aviv startup, VDOO has raised $32m to address IoT security.  They have created a platform that can identify and fix security vulnerabilities in IoT devices.  It then runs tests to make sure that the fixes have been successful.

VDOO was co-founded by Netanel Davidi (co-CEO), Uri Alter (also co-CEO) and Asaf Karas (CTO), all of whom have extensive experience within the security space.   

In a statement, Davidi revealed that the company was created from the need to protect our IoT.  He states;

“Many embedded systems have a low threshold for security because they were not created with security in mind”.  A lot of security solutions today in the IoT space have focused on monitoring, but not fixing, he added.

“Most companies have good solutions for the visibility of their systems, and are able to identify vulnerabilities on the network, but are not sufficient at protecting devices themselves.”

The fact that these devices have not been created with security in mind has given rise to widespread concern.  The low security threshold has been identified to be the major shortfall of IoT; one that is as costly as it is disruptive.  Analysts estimate that to address IoT security will cost as much as $18.3 billion by 2023

This industry shortfall is two-fold.  In part, it is due to the concern surrounding how security fixes might impact device performance and secondly, the fact that this has typically not been a core competency for hardware makers.  Instead it is something that is considered after devices appear on the market.

VDOO’s approach was to conceive of a very lightweight implementation that sits on a small group of devices.  They have applied machine learning to “learn” how different security vulnerabilities might behave to discover adjacent hacks that hadn’t yet been identified.  

Part of the VDOO approach is to pare down security requirements and solutions to those relevant to the device in question.  They then provide clear guidance to manufacturers on how to best avoid problems at the development stage. VDOO then also generates specific “tailor-made, on-device micro-agents” to continue the detection and repair process.

VDOO’s USP is their solid focus on providing security services for hardware makers.  Indeed, Davidi says VDOO sells its services primarily to device makers. Vendors are then able to make ‘over the air’ latest fix updates to their devices after they have been purchased and implemented.

Over the last year and a half, VDOO have gone from strength to strength.  They have built a diverse customer base; its dataset covers some 70 million embedded systems’ binaries and more than 16,000 versions of embedded systems.  They have worked alongside customers to identify and address 150 zero-day vulnerabilities and 100,000 security issues that would have potentially impacted 1.5 billion devices.

It currently supports Linux- and Android-based operating systems, as well as FreeRTOS, however Davidi has promised that there will be added support for additional systems soon.  Typical devices currently secured with VDOO tech include safety and security devices such as surveillance cameras, NVRs & DVRs, fire alarm systems, access controls, routers, switches and access points.

This latest round of funding has been led by WRVI Capital and GGV Capital, and brings the total amount raised to just over $45 million.  Managing partner at GGV, Glenn Solomon is confident about the future of VDOO. He believes VDOO to be “unique” and “answers the emerging threats targeting embedded devices”.  In his statement, he goes on to say that;

“This funding, together with the company’s great technology, skilled entrepreneurs and one of the best teams we have seen, will allow VDOO to maintain its leadership position in IoT security and expand geographies while continuing to develop its state-of-the-art technology.”

The massive number of devices currently on the market and their vast deployment across domestic and industry scenarios make the landscape rocky and hard to navigate.  The In-home Voice Assistant is commonplace in homes across the world; just last week, Our Week in Digital reported that over 2018 smart speakers hit critical mass in the US.   Despite such a high volume of users, security has notoriously been an issue, and such devices can be vulnerable even when not connected to the internet.

Indeed, just this week research commissioned by Microsoft identified that 41% of digital assistant users were concerned about trust, privacy and passive listening.  

Although VDOO’s technology has enterprise customers at heart, it is their work with hardware creators which will impact the security of the devices we see in our homes.  VDOO have clearly developed a product which holds significant weight within the IoT space. As we become more and more connected it stands to reason that all or some of our concerns over device security are addressed by such tech –  whether they be on the dashboard of our cars, on our kitchen worktops or the surveillance cameras located at our workplaces.

Microsoft close to a $ trillion valuation after a 19% boost in profits.

On Wednesday, software provider Microsoft announced that following a 19% boost in profits they are within touching distance of reaching a trillion dollar valuation.

The figures suggest that revenues have increased by 14% in the first three months of 2019 to $30.6bn  (£23.7bn). Not only this. Microsoft shares rose by 3% putting Microsoft’s market capitalisation above closest rivals Apple.

Following the share price rise, Microsoft’s market value stood at around $987bn, marginally above Apple’s $977bn.

In part, Microsoft can attribute their success across the early months of  2019 to the growth of professional networking site LinkedIn. Revenues from this arm of the business enjoyed a 26% lift, while sales of its Office productivity software were up 12%.

Microsoft beat Wall Street expectations by posting profits of $8.8bn, which it said had been driven by growth in its cloud computing business.   Microsoft’s Azure cloud computing service, which allows other companies to rent computing power, competes heavily with Amazon’s Web Services. The latter being the industry front-runner.  

Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s chief executive, said businesses of all sizes “trust” Microsoft.  A little dig at rivals, Amazon perhaps? The e-commerce giant has suffered some bad press of late regarding pay and working conditions.  It could be that some enterprise customers have some discomfort with these aspects of the company, thus prompting this shift toward Microsoft’s services.

Nadella has also highlighted the company’s shift in focus to be a factor in the Microsoft boom.  He remarked;

“We are accelerating our innovation across the cloud and edge so our customers can build the digital capability increasingly required to compete and grow”.

If Microsoft were able to hit this landmark, this would make them only the third company to do so.  Apple and Amazon have both previously reached this valuation in the past. However, they have since dropped below the threshold.  

And Finally:

LEGO launch braille bricks.

Sometimes the best ideas are the most obvious, so it is a wonder that this latest innovation from Danish toymaker Lego wasn’t launched decades ago.  This week, Lego have announced the release of braille bricks, a transformative product aimed at visually impaired children.  

Traditionally, blind and sight-impaired children have been forced to learn through rigid and structured media; printouts and braille readers for example.  Here, hands-on learning can be taught through play and interaction with others. Visually challenged children are able to play alongside sighted peers, forming friendships, collaboration and be taught language on an equal footing with their friends.

The natural braille-like structure of the regular Lego brick will be adapted somewhat.  The traditional 2×4 brick, in particular, provides the basis of the braille version, except these won’t have the regular 8 stud structure.  Instead, the studs will form the shape of the Braille alphabet; all of which happen to fit comfortably in a 2×3 array of studs. For sighted education providers, there will be a space at the bottom of the brick for the letter or symbol in question to be placed.  

Currently, Danish, Norwegian, English and Portuguese blocks are being tested.  German, Spanish and French language systems are on track for testing later this year.  Perhaps what is so remarkable about this latest innovation is that the complete 250 piece set will be available for free to institutions serving vision-impaired students.  Notoriously, “specialist” learning equipment are costly, with such price tags being restrictive to many education providers.

The product is due for release in 2020 and uptake is thought to be huge.  Maybe you know of an education provider who provide care or learning for visually impaired children?  If so forward this article and recommend they get in touch with Lego today.

STEM education is something that is close to our hearts at Ignite Digital HQ.  Even more so, when these educational systems support those groups who can be marginalised by mainstream products and services.  Investing in the future generations of the tech workforce is crucial if we are to maintain and build upon the dominance of the UK tech ecosystem and workforce.  The learners of today are the innovators and entrepreneurs of tomorrow. We are firm believers that you can never start too early!


About the author: As a founder of Ignite Digital Talent, I lead our brilliant team to ensure we deliver time and time again for our clients. I also stay closely networked with industry influencers to ensure we are well placed to understand the issues and challenges our clients face.

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