Happy New Year from us all at Ignite, and welcome to your first Our Week in Digital of 2019!  A slightly shorter version than you’re used to, but it’ll be back to business next week. We are looking forward to bringing you the best the tech news pages have to offer over the next 12 months, and as always we welcome your comments and feedback…leave your thoughts below!   

Bristol-based start-up Graphcore fend of takeover offers.

Graphcore are yet another Silicon Gorge success story based here in Bristol.  This tech start-up specialises in building chips which are able to deal with artificial intelligence algorithms up to 100 times faster than current processors.  Developments such as these claim to make machine learning “faster, easier and more intelligent”.

Graphcore recently announced that they had raised a further $200m in it’s latest funding round, giving the company a valuation of $1.7 billion, and with it the much sought after ‘unicorn’ label (a privately held start-up valued at over $1billion).

Perhaps as a testament to their success, it has been reported this week that Graphcore are currently fending off takeover offers from some major industry players, eager to acquire this young and ambitious company. At the time of writing, it’s unclear what offers are being thrown Graphcore’s way, but they are bound to be weighty.  However, for the time being, Graphcore are remaining true to their roots.

Indeed, a company spokesperson has confirmed that Graphcore founders Nigel Toon and Simon Knowles are “focused on building and growing a UK-based chip company” but one that still operates at “a global scale”.

2018 has seen a fair bit of movement within the semiconductor space.  Singapore-listed Broadcom attempted an unsuccessful takeover of Qualcomm back in March, whilst in September, Japanese chipmaker Renesas Electronics bought rival Integrated Device Technology for $6.7bn.   

The UK has a reputation for growing exciting and innovative tech companies.  Some industry insiders, however, have concerns about the interest these startups receive from tech heavyweights.  The danger is that they are lured overseas before they have had a chance to reach their full potential and their opportunity to grow independently.

Vishal Chatrath, the chief executive of another UK based AI startup, Prowler.io was able to confirm this high level of interest.  He states: “In terms of interest from the big players, it’s just constant. We get interest all the time from every shape and size, but we still feel that we would love to grow independently”

It is hopeful though that success stories such as Graphcore’s will give British entrepreneurs the self-confidence to rebuff tempting proposals from larger companies.  It’s essential that the UK remains one of the tech capitals of the globe, able to nurture and incubate small, progressive and independent business.

Google sensor allows you to control your smartphone with a gesture.

Google are storming into 2019.  This week the Alphabet owned company have been given the regulatory green light to launch ‘Project Soli’, a sensor allowing users to control their phone using just a wave of the hand.  

Commentary from inside Google suggest that early integrations will include “invisible buttons”, “virtual dials” and “sliders” that the user can twist, turn or grab in mid-air. This revolutionary piece of kit will work by emitting a radar beam that can track hand movements in a three-dimensional space. It can facilitate the control of everything…from the smart device in your pocket, right down to the fitness tracker on your wrist.   They will use Artificial Intelligence to train the gesture command technology so that devices are able to recognise an individual’s gestures and interpret them.

Expert minds within the VR space are understandably excited by these developments and believe that this type of tech has huge potential.   Roy Kalawsky, director of advanced VR Research at Loughborough University is of the opinion that gesture technology could mean “big steps” toward giving us all greater access to a wider range of technologies.  In agreement is Dr Tae-Kyun Kim, leader of the Computer Vision and Learning Lab at Imperial College London. He has stated that this technology represents “huge potential for technological breakthroughs”.

This isn’t the first time Google have experimented with gesture control technology.  Back in 2013, they worked alongside car manufacturers Ford to allow users to open and close car windows or control their air conditioning with a wave of the hand. However, it is the first time they’ve taken the user on such a detailed, three dimensional journey; allowing them to interact with their device in such a dextrous manner in a remote space.  It sounds fascinating and we can’t wait to see it in action!

UK government to invest in micro-robots to do the jobs humans don’t want to.

Love them or hate them, Robotics will undeniably be a major tech trend as we head into 2019.  Robots have been hailed as a new army of workforce…one that will be able to do the jobs humans can’t (or don’t want) to do!

It has been reported this week that the UK government have also spotted their potential.  They are planning to invest heavily in teams of micro-robots designed to work in cramped and dangerous conditions; underground pipe networks and decommissioned nuclear facilities for example.

The aim is that the robots will end the need for expensive and disruptive works across our infrastructure.  Robots would be deployed underground to carry out repairs to gas or water pipes, for example, negating the need for roads to be dug up.  Other uses may include airborne and underwater versions which could inspect and maintain difficult-to-reach locations such as offshore wind farms or oil and gas pressure vessels.   

This level of advancement does not come cheap though.  Science minister, Chris Skidmore, announced the sizeable investment…one which will total £26.6m across 15 projects.  Although this may seem like a lot, it appears that this is an investment worth making. Quite apart from the frustration extensive roadworks causes UK road users every day, it also places quite a strain on the economy.  Disruption from roadworks alone is estimated to cost us £5bn a year.  The funding will also facilitate research into the use of robotics in hazardous environments.  The use of drones to monitor oil pipelines for example, or artificial intelligence able to establish the need for repairs on satellites in orbit.

The money itself will come from the government’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund and will be delivered by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).   Sir Mark Walport, UKRI’s chief executive believes that this week’s announcement only serves to demonstrate how robots and artificial intelligence will revolutionise the way we carry out complex and dangerous tasks in the future.   It also illustrates the pioneering role the UK is playing on the robotics scene; leading the way in both boosting productivity and improving efficiency.

We don’t know about you, but we can’t wait for the day when our daily commute is not lengthened by diversions, temporary traffic lights or lane closures.  £26.5 million seems like a small price to pay!


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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