Driverless Cars to be tested ahead of Christmas Launch.

It looks like Santa’s sleigh will not be the only fully autonomous vehicle on the streets of London this December!  

It has been announced that a Government-backed consortium headed by Oxford University spinoff, Oxbotica will test a fleet of driverless cars on the streets of our capital this week.  Should all go to plan, it is hoped that the UK’s first fleet of totally driverless vehicles will hit the roads before Christmas.  

If Hounslow, West London happens to be your stomping ground, then you may bear witness to these vehicles as they are taught to navigate features such as road signs and lane markings.  Experts are hopeful; successful trials have already taken place in Oxbotica’s home city of Oxford.

Insurance provider AXA, UK registry domain Nominet and multinational telecommunications manufacturer, Telefonica make up the consortium alongside Oxbotica.  

The consortium was awarded an £8.6 million grant from Innovate UK to run the trials, which, if successful, will culminate in a fleet of autonomous vehicles running between Oxford and London in 2019.

The vehicles will be fitted with software from Oxbotica.  It will enable the cars to share data with each other, providing alerts to hazards on the road.  Other tech fitted to the vehicles will include radar and a variety of sensors, onboard computers and cameras.

According to Oxbotica, the tests will be repeated several times on different dates so that cars can learn how the streets change depending on lighting conditions.

Dr Graeme Smith, chief executive of Oxbotica, said: “These trials further demonstrate to the wider UK public that connected and autonomous vehicles will play an important role in the future of transport. This milestone shows the advanced state of our capabilities and firmly keeps us on the road to provide the technology needed to revolutionise road travel.”

Earlier editions of Our Week in Digital have underlined the dominance of the UK in the development of the driverless car.  Indeed, experts have highlighted the adverse road and weather conditions of the UK as true indicators of these cars’ abilities.  After all, if you can navigate the congested streets of London…potholes and all…you can drive anywhere!   

Amazon to sell software that can read medical records

A doctors annotation is notoriously difficult to interpret, but this week it has been alleged that Amazon will sell software that is able to read medical records and from them, make suggestions regarding treatment and budget.

The service will be called Amazon Comprehend Medical and in short is cloud software combining text analysis and machine learning to read patient records. Once those records are digitised and uploaded to Comprehend Medical, it is able to select and organise information about a range of medical processes.  Diagnoses, treatments, medication dosage, and patient symptoms for example.

There have been algorithms in the past which have tried to do the same thing.  However, they have proven to be unsuccessful. Abbreviations in the shorthand of doctors have been a stumbling block and caused previous attempts to fail.  Amazon, however, claim to have trained its system to recognise these idiosyncrasies. In turn, patients can then use the service to help manage different aspects of their treatment, including scheduling healthcare visits and prescription medicines or determining insurance eligibility.

This is another move into the health care market for Amazon.  Back in June, the Silicon Valley Giant bought the online pharmacy PillPack and they already sell private label over-the-counter drugs through a partnership with Perrigo.  They have also obtained pharmacy licenses in a few US states, and are permitted to distribute medical devices all across America.

Amazon are not the first large tech company to extend its reach into the healthcare space.  Earlier this year, Apple released a feature that lets customers view their hospital medical records on their iPhones.  Alongside this, Google recently hired former Geisinger CEO, David Feinberg to streamline the healthcare initiatives across its business, including search, Google Brain, Google Fit, and Nest.

The uploading of medical records to the cloud for machine learning analysis has caused some to question how Comprehend Medical will ensure patient privacy.  In response to this, Amazon says patient data is encrypted and can only be unlocked by customers who have a key. They also claim no data processed will be stored or used for training its algorithms.  In addition, Comprehend Medical complies with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

Comprehend Medical is already being previewed by companies Roche Diagnostics and the Fred Hutchison Cancer Research Center in Seattle.  By using the software to analyse “millions of clinical notes,” Amazon says the centre was able to reduce the time it needed to process each document “from hours, to seconds.”

If this product from Amazon can escalate the services that critically ill patients can recieve, then it will dramatically improve the long term prognosis and efficacy of patient care.

Indeed, Matthew Trunnell, the CIO of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre, said “For cancer patients and the researchers dedicated to curing them, time is the limiting resource. The process of developing clinical trials and connecting them with the right patients requires research teams to sift through and label mountains of unstructured medical record data. Amazon Comprehend Medical will reduce this time burden from hours per record to seconds. This is a vital step toward getting researchers rapid access to the information they need when they need it so they can find actionable insights to advance lifesaving therapies for patients.”

Apple launch app development program for female entrepreneurs.

Apple are set to better support female led or founded businesses by launching its new Entrepreneur Camp, a technology lab based on app development.

The free two-week camp will begin in January and will give female founders the opportunity to receive personal coding assistance from Apple engineers.  They will also be given guidance regarding design, technology and app store marketing.

In order to be able to enrol, the company must be led, founded or co-founded by women.  In an industry which is notoriously patriarchal, it must also have at least one female on its development team.

Broadly speaking, it is hoped that the camp will help keep more women in the workplace and encourage more women into leadership roles.  Additionally, Apple’s Senior Director of Worldwide Developer Marketing, Esther Hare believes that the program will serve as a platform which may help to increase the chances of women to raise funding for their enterprises.  This year, it was reported that female founders have raised just 2.2% of all US Venture Capital Investment.

As this is an Apple-run scheme, it is an iOS programme.  However, Android-based companies need not miss out. In fact, it is an invaluable insight into Apple’s ecosystem and an opportunity to get direct support from the technologies creators.  

The scheme truly has learning at its core.  This ethos is perhaps best demonstrated by the fact that once accepted onto the scheme, the lucky participant is then able to extend the benefits out to her team.  The program allows the core recipient to invite up to three others to the lab.

“Even if they’re not the most advanced, they get to come to the workshop to get support, network and skill development,” Hare goes on to say.

This is not an isolated scheme.  Apple have taken on similar workshops, talks and accelerators in the past, but this is the first that has a particular demographic at its heart.  Although this is the first that is female-focused, Hare states that Apple have developed this program with all “underrepresented minorities in mind – particularly women of colour”.

Red Hat acquire cloud data management service, Noobaa.

A huge $34 billion is the price that tech giant IBM are likely to pay for open source software providers Red Hat.  While this deal is yet to be finalised, it seems that this hasn’t stopped Red Hat from going shopping themselves. In the interim, Red Hat are running independently and have just acquired NooBaa.  This Tel-Aviv based startup helps enterprise customers manage their data more easily and access their various data providers through a single API.  

Noobaa are a good fit for Red Hat and will slide seamlessly into its portfolio.  At its core, NooBaa are all about bringing together various data silos. Red Hat already have OpenShift , the OpenShift Container Platform, along with its Ceph Storage service.  Noobaa will add to this range of hybrid cloud tools.

Ranga Rangachari is the VP and general manager for storage and hyper-converged infrastructure at Red Hat.  Of the acquisition, he states that “NooBaa’s technologies will augment our portfolio and strengthen our ability to meet the needs of developers in today’s hybrid and a multi-cloud world”.  He goes on to say that “we are thrilled to welcome a technical team of nine to the Red Hat family as we work together to further solidify Red Hat as a leading provider of open hybrid cloud technologies.”

AWS launches a base station for Satellites as a Service

The AWS re:Invent conference takes place in Las Vegas this week, and Amazon Web Services have chosen this platform as its opportunity to announce a new service for satellite providers.  The launch of AWS Ground Station, will be the first fully managed ground station as a service.  

This new service will provide ground antennas through their existing network of worldwide availability zones.  It will also facilitate the simplification of data retrieval and processing services for satellite customers or for others who consume the satellite data.

Although this is a concept that hadn’t been considered by AWS before, CEO Andy Jassy pointed out that it is one that has been welcomed and prompted by customers;

“Customers said that we have so much data in space with so many applications that want to use that data. Why don’t you make it easier?”

Before the advent of this service, companies had to build these base stations themselves.  Only then could they harvest the data from the satellites as they passed over the base stations distributed here on Earth, wherever they happened to be.  Having satellites as a managed service greatly simplifies every aspect of the workflow.

Not only will it streamline the process, it will also allow developers to get their hands on the satellite data faster than ever before.  

Holger Mueller, an analyst at Constellation Research believes “To rule real-world application use cases you need to make maps and real-time spatial data available in an easy-to-consume, real-time and affordable way,”

AWS Ground Station looks likely to address and solve these issues too.  Every aspect of the satellite data retrieval and processing operation for the enterprise company is handled by AWS, greatly reducing the cost and complexity associated with it.

Customers and partners involved in the Ground Station preview include Lockheed Martin, Open Cosmos, HawkEye360 and DigitalGlobe.  At the conference, AWS outlined their plan. They will start with two ground stations as they launch the service, but hope to expand it to 12 by the middle of next year.

Microsoft become the world’s most valuable company.

16 years after they lost their crown in the aftermath of the DotCom crash, Microsoft has, once again, become the world’s most valuable publically listed company.  On Wednesday it was announced that the tech giant had overtaken rivals Apple to reach the top spot.

Reports published mid-week saw Microsoft’s market value reach $850bn (£664bn), seeing it surpass its rival for the first time since 2010.  This comes off the back of a prolonged decline in Apple’s share price.

Microsoft have enjoyed a boost in fortune since the arrival of Satya Nadella as CEO just under 5 years ago.  Since that time, Microsoft have seen its share price triple. By contrast, amid reports of the decline in the sales of the iPhone, Apple’s share price has fallen by 25% since its peak earlier this year.

Under the leadership of Mr Nadella, Microsoft have shifted their focus away from the “at home” consumer.  Instead, they have focused their efforts toward enterprise and those business customers who use their software.   This diversion has cooled the well-publicised rivalry between the two Silicon Valley leaders. Apple and Microsoft fell out after the Windows software collaboration went sour back in 1985.

Currently, Microsoft are focusing on playing to their strengths.  They are concentrating on the cloud computing arm of their business while sidelining those divisions which have been less than fruitful.  Their failed efforts in dominating the smartphone market is just one example of this. It could be argued that “Nokia-gate” was a disastrous attempt to compete with Apple directly.  

Apple became the first company to hit a trillion-dollar valuation in August, and since 2013 have been the world’s most valuable company.  Microsoft and Apple were founded less than a year apart, in 1975 and 1976 respectively. Since then they have spent much of their life as bitter rivals.  Since then their fortunes have ping-ponged back and forth. For the moment at least, however, it seems that Microsoft have the upper hand.

Microsoft to supply HoloLens headsets to US troops.

In our last piece of news this week our attention stay with Microsoft.  In a deal with the Department for Defence, Microsoft have been awarded a $480m (£374m) sum to provide the US Army with the latest in holographic headsets.  The soldiers will use this revolutionary piece of equipment in order to detect enemies whilst on the battlefield.

The technology giant will provide up to 120,000 versions of its HoloLens device to the military.  It will be used to “increase lethality by enhancing the ability to detect, decide and engage before the enemy,” the US Department for Defense said.

The HoloLens device is worn around the head and over the eyes.  It works by projecting virtual images onto the real world. The wearer is then able to interact with the graphics using hand gestures like a pinch or pointing an index finger, for example.

HoloLens was launched in 2015 and is not yet available for use by the general public.  It is, however, being successfully used by commercial clients. Ford and Volvo use it for designing cars and Lowe’s, a hardware shop in the US uses HoloLens to help customers try out different paint colours on virtual walls.  It is also being used for more exciting projects. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory have been using it to project holograms of Mars Rover images, giving scientists an opportunity to explore the red planet.

The US and Israeli Armies have already been using the device to train recruits. However, in this latest contract, the DoD have requested the tech be more sophisticated.  Features such as thermal sensing, night vision and the ability to check vital signs like breathing are to be included in the winning piece of tech.

It is undeniable that being able to recreate and provide a greater layer of information will empower and enable the troops on the front line.  Indeed, of the partnership, a spokesman from Microsoft revealed that “Augmented reality technology will provide troops with more and better information to make decisions. This new work extends our longstanding, trusted relationship with the DoD to this new area.

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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