Digital Catapult opens doors on Machine Intelligence Garage

,Digital Catapult opens doors on Machine Intelligence Garage for UK start-ups

Digital Catapult has today launched Machine Intelligence Garage, a program to develop artificial intelligence and machine learning start-ups in the UK.

Digital Catapult is a not-for-profit body that focuses on helping UK businesses to scale up. Its latest initiative, the Machine Intelligence Garage program, previewed in the UK government’s Industrial Strategy last week, aims to support the ambition of making the UK a global centre for artificial intelligence (AI) development. It’s an industry that politicians hope will add £232 billion to the UK economy by 2030.

According to Digital Catapult’s own survey of around 10 percent of the UK’s AI and machine learning (ML) start-ups, more than half are currently held back because they lack access to computation power.

Read more: Digital Catapult to launch three new networks in UK

Garage programme

Digital Catapult’s Machine Intelligence Garage programme, due to begin in January 2018, aims to tackle this issue by giving small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) access to cloud-based and physical computational power for AI. The organization is also promising to host a series of investor pitch days, meet-ups and showcases to create a knowledge-sharing environment among start-ups in this area.

According to Digital Catapult, deep-learning techniques, which have reached human-level performances, incur extortionately high computational costs – a single training run for a ML system can cost upwards of £10,000. This can be a serious barrier for UK innovators and researchers.

Read more: Digital Catapult explains why it’s backing immersive reality

Valid endpoints

Clive Longbottom, analyst at IT advisory company Quocirca, said that when it comes to AI, ML and deep learning, it is very easy for huge amounts of resource to be required to reach a valid endpoint.

“If this is to be done on constrained equipment, then the results can take too long to come back. The costs of putting in place sufficient resource for real-time AI can be horrendous – therefore, it makes sense for a group to come together and enable a suitable environment for smaller start-up companies to access the resources they need,” he explained.

Longbottom suggested that, by sharing physical resources, risks can be shared too.

“For example, if there are 20 companies using a certain hardware system and a better one comes along, moving over to that new hardware is cheaper for everyone as a shared cost, rather than it all being down to a single player,” he said.

“Hopefully, the Machine Intelligence Garage will be a well-shared, multi-player environment with shared resources and shared risks across the board. Whether this will allow the UK to compete effectively against the massive R&D investments from the likes of Microsoft, IBM, AWS and Google in the US, or from low-cost or massively government-backed environments such as China, is something we will have to wait and see,” he added.

Read more: London Zoo turns to IoT to tackle global poaching menace

Partner network

Digital Catapult is collaborating with a number of technology companies, high-performance computing facilities and academics for the three-year programme. These include Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google Cloud Platform, NVIDIA, Graphcore, STFC Hartree Centre, EPCC, Newcastle University, the Alan Turing Institute, Bart’s Health Trust and Capital Enterprise. The programme’s initial funders are InnovateUK and ERDF.

Companies developing products or services that use ML or AI can apply to take part in the initiative and applications will be assessed based on a number of criteria. These include strength of  idea, technical implementation plan, availability of data, ethical use of data, and the immediacy of the need for computation power.

Applications for the programme will open every six weeks, with the first open call going live today. The first group of successful companies will join the programme on 23 January 2018.

Read more: Digital Catapult expands LPWAN program for councils and enterprises

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Google pushes Android Things to Developer Preview 6

Google pushes Android Things to DP6

Search and cloud computing giant Google has launched the developer preview version 6 (DP6) of its Android Things offering.

Billed as an IoT platform, Google’s Android Things is intended to provide developers with a way to build connected devices for many consumer, retail and industrial applications, from smart locks to sensor control systems. 

The latest developer preview of the platform (DP6) irons out some bugs and offers a selection of new features.

Internet of Business has been tracking Android Things since its launch this time last year, and understands that Google intends to position this technology as a means of coding device applications with functions including video and audio processing.

Plans also include the option to enable on-board machine learning using TensorFlow, an open-source software library for machine intelligence.

Read more: Google launches Android Things, a new IoT platform for developers

Launching a launcher

According to Wayne Piekarski, Google developer advocate for IoT, DP6 includes a new ‘IoT launcher’ that allows the user to see the current state of a device and change settings using a touchscreen or USB input devices.

“Settings such as configuring the WiFi, finding the build ID, and checking for updates is now something that can be done interactively, making it even easier to get started,” he said.

Android users have become increasingly used to the notion of ‘launchers’, by virtue of the success of Google’s ‘Now’ launcher for Android. A launcher can perhaps be best described as a software ‘overlay’ designed to provide a new core graphical user interface (GUI) in a defined functionality style.

Read more: Sophos unveils Android Things and Windows 10 IoT device management capabilities

More granular IoT controls

Android Things uses the open-source SwiftShader library, a CPU-based implementation of the OpenGL ES application programming interface (API). Google executives say this enables common OpenGL support across all platforms, even those with no GPU hardware.

“New APIs have been added to Android Things that control the configuration of the local device and device updates. UpdateManager gives developers control over when updates and reboots can be performed, ensuring the device is available for the user when needed,” Piekarski explained. “DeviceManager controls factory reset, reboot, and device locales. APIs are also provided for settings such as ScreenManager to control the screen and TimeManager to control the clock and timezone.”

So developer-centric from the start  – yes. But what Google has done in this latest round of updates is to give more defined pointers on what type of core functionality controls are needed in IoT devices and offer more guidelines to developers on the kind of IoT programming that Google says it champions.

Read more: Volvo teams up with Google to put Android into connected cars

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Exotec Solutions unveils ‘3D’ robotic retail order system

exotec skypod robots for logistics and retail e-commerce

French start-up Exotec Solutions is working with e-commerce giant Cdiscount to test a scalable, speedy autonomous robot network that could take order fulfilment to the next level. 

Ferrying items from one side of a warehouse to another is well within the operating parameters of many industrial robots. In fact, from online retailers such as Amazon to groceries from Ocado, the brute-force side of the order fulfilment process is increasingly dependant on nuts and bolts, AI and autonomous machines.

However, the final steps of picking, placing and packaging require a level of dexterity that only humans are capable of – although that too is changing. Ocado’s robots are getting smarter and events like Amazon’s Picking Challenge are enabling researchers to test out new techniques in real-world scenarios.

For now though, with the orders mounting up, online retailers are keen to speed up the process in any way possible.

Read more: Ocado’s robots offer ‘safe pair of hands’ for packing shopping

Taking order fulfilment to new heights

French AI robotics start-up Exotec Solutions is today launching Skypod Robots, an autonomous system designed to improve order processing speed and, according to the company, work two times faster than its rivals.

French e-commerce company Cdiscount has been testing the Skypods at its Bordeaux warehouse and seen order processing speed rise by a factor of four. The Skypod system is making an impact for three reasons.

First is the ability of the ‘3D mobile robots’ to scale shelves as well as roll around at ground level. Second is speed. Scuttling about at 10 mph, the robots can quickly transfer goods in the warehouse to human operators who handle packing and shipping. Third, according to Exotec, the robots’ laser scanner navigation system allows them to travel anywhere in the storage area, while carrying boxes weighing more than 60 pounds.

Read more: Walmart testing autonomous shelf-scanning robots

Exotec emphasizes flexible deployment

Romain Moulin, CEO of Exotec Solutions, suggests that a flexible, scalable system is best positioned to disrupt e-commerce logistics. “To respond to today’s market requirements, companies are putting the emphasis on deployment speed and flexible deployment capability rather than heavy fixed infrastructure in order to best respond to rapid fluctuations in demand,” he said.

“The Skypod addresses the needs of a new generation of customers who are looking for high performance and high-density systems that can be modified every two years.”

“From inception, the system has been designed to ensure fast deployment and full scalability. Skypod’s free navigation allows the robots to travel anywhere within the system, something the competition can’t offer today,” said Renaud Heitz, Exotec’s CTO and co-founder.

“The system’s software is powered by the latest artificial intelligence, allowing us to deploy on site within days instead of weeks.”

In December last year, Exotec raised $ 3.5million from 360 Capital Partners and Breega Capital.

Read more: Ecommerce giant Alibaba opens ‘China’s smartest warehouse’

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Eight examples of how IoT is improving retail banking

Eight innovative use cases for IoT In retail banking

The financial services sector has been slow to embrace the IoT – but look hard enough and you’ll find some retail banking bright lights leading the way, as Doug Drinkwater reports.

It is fair say that most banks haven’t really got into the swing of the IoT trend. While other industries, such as retail and manufacturing, have led the way, banks have largely focused on other digital technologies that may help them fend off competition from so-called ‘challenger’ banks and fintech start-ups.

For organizations in retail banking, faster payments, improved operability (to support the move to open banking) and more responsive mobile services are the main points of focus for innovation. Despite some interest in technologies such as AI and robotic process automation to deliver what financial services industry commentator Chris Skinner refers to “more personal, more contextual and ultimately unique banking experiences”, many have been laissez-faire with their IoT efforts to date.

Yet the IoT offers retail banks an opportunity to gather more information on customers, offer more personalized experiences and improve efficiencies. Here, we look at some novel examples of IoT in retail banking.

Read more: Internet of Banking & Payments: where every device is a payment device

Wearables, payments, cars and contracts

1. Banking on wearables

Wearable devices have arguably been the easiest ‘win’ for banks so far, thanks to a growing ecosystem of devices and the relative low cost associated with getting started. Many banks now provide applications for popular wearables like Apple Watch and FitPay, which is already working with the Bank of America. Some banks have even  launched their own devices, with Barclays unveiling bPay wearable contactless payment solutions and other wearable bands coming from Caixa Bank, Hellenic Bank and Australia’s WestPac (with PayWear).

2. Pumping up payments

On the face of it, an IoT-powered beer pump sounds like nothing more than a PR stunt, but there is some logic here. In a trial in a London bar late last year, Barclays’ Pay @ Pump self-serve beer pump allowed users to order, pay for and pour their drink in just 60 seconds and avoid long waits at the busiest time of the year.

3. Branching out to connected cars

For car manufacturers, the opportunity to offer services in and around connected cars not only has the potential to improve customer relationships, but also boost revenues. But smarter vehicles represent an opportunity for banks, too: for example, Idea Bank runs a fleet of cars, each customized with an integrated security deposit box and an ATM, which can visit the customer, rather than vice versa. The bank’s data suggests that the average deposit at one of its mobile, car-based ATMs is three times higher than at the branch. Meanwhile, in Canada, credit union Blueshore is exploring the possibility of wealth management apps, displayed on car windscreens, for passengers to review their portfolios while being driven to their destination.

4. Blockchain-based smart contracts

Blockchain’s potential to keep a secure record of authenticated transactions has been much discussed, in financial services and beyond. Some banks are already trialling the technology:  Commonwealth Bank of Australia, Wells Fargo and trading firm Brighann Cotton claim to have completed the first global trade transaction between two banks using blockchain, smart contracts and the IoT. The transaction involved a shipment of cotton from Texas to Qingdao in China.

Read more: SAP: Banks must prepare for open banking age

Branches, beacons and banking at home

5. Smarter branches

The retail bank branch may be under threat, but there is a view that smarter branches might offer customers a better experience. In a recent experiment, Clydesdale and Yorkshire Banking Group’s (CYBG) customer innovation lab opened a test bed in London where it tested a number of smart devices to improve the customer experience. For example, facial detection technology was used to judge how users interacted with the space, while web access was offered through interactive touchscreens.

6. Beacons shine a light on personalization

Bluetooth beacons also represent an opportunity for retail banks to reinvigorate underused high street branches. US Bank, WestPac in New Zealand and Citi are all using beacon technology, while it was recently revealed that Chase is testing beacon technologies to “pre-announce” customers that opt into the service before they approach a human bank teller or ATM. At Barclays, beacons have been used to help disabled passengers navigate branches.

7. Banking at home

Capital One in the US now makes it possible for customers to pay their bills via Amazon’s Alexa (the virtual assistant on its Echo smart speaker), but it is certainly not the only retail banking organisation to do this, nor will it be the last. Take UK challenger bank Starling, for example, which has been experimenting with Google Home, integrating its API with the smart speaker to enable users to carry out balance queries and payments through voice commands.

8. Chatbots offer better customer experience

Chatbots have seen some adoption in retail banking, and no surprise – this is an easy and relatively affordable way of automating customer service enquiries. Some start-ups have hopped on this opportunity too, such as Cleo which connects to your bank and utilises Facebook’s chatbot platform. There are other good examples, from Royal Bank of Scotland’s RBS Assist chatbot for banking FAQs to DBS using Kasisto’s Kai AI platform to allow customers to conduct transactions like transfers and pay bills. Swedbank, meanwhile, launched Nuance’s ‘NINA’ on its website and mobile application to help answer customer inquiries more quickly by sourcing the relevant information.

Read more: IoT in banking? I’ll stick with my mainframe, thanks

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Ten IoT predictions for 2018 from Cisco’s Maciej Kranz

Ten IoT predictions for 2018 from Cisco’s Maciej Kranz

Internet of Business speaks to Cisco executive and bestselling author Maciej Kranz about his IoT forecast for 2018. 

Ten predictions for 2018 from Cisco's Maciej Kranz

Maciej Kranz of Cisco

Maciej Kranz is vice president of strategic innovation at networking giant Cisco and also author of the New York Times bestseller, Building the Internet of Things. It’s fair to say he keeps a pretty watchful eye on IoT developments, which is why Internet of Business was pleased to sit down with Kranz earlier this week and discuss his predictions for 2018.

He’s optimistic about the year ahead. “I think 2018 will be a watershed year for IoT, where we move from a first phase that focused on incremental improvements, to a new phase in which IoT gains momentum as barriers and challenges are addressed, in terms of security market structures, industry standards and so on. We are moving beyond the basics, to an era of more advanced value propositions.”

From that perspective, he adds, IoT in 2018 will be about the transformational impact these technologies can have, “less about hype, and more about business benefit.” 

Read more: IBM’s Harriet Green: The ABC of IoT in 2018

The IoT year ahead

So what are Kranz’s ten predictions for 2018?

1. IoT devices will converge with artificial intelligence (AI), fog computing and blockchain

The main purpose of IoT devices is to generate data – but that data is only useful when we do something with it, says Kranz. In this respect, three technologies are now gaining in importance, because they will help companies move from IoT initiatives that merely produce incremental gains, to those that create entirely new business models and revenue streams. They are artificial intelligence (AI), fog computing and blockchain.

With huge volumes of real-time and near real-time data now flowing from IoT devices, standard analytics are no longer enough. Sophisticated use cases, such as preventive maintenance applications for vehicles and machinery, call for more in-depth approaches that lead to greater accuracy. “If IoT is the body, AI is the brains,” Kranz explains. Fog (or edge) computing, meanwhile, will help companies overcome the bandwidth challenges of processing huge volumes real-time data, by locating processing power closer to the source of data. And blockchain will provide secure ledgers for IoT-enabled transactions.

2. We will see the rise of co-everything

The IoT is forcing companies large and small to co-innovate and co-develop. From a technology perspective, IoT applications increasingly rely on technologies sourced from a wide range of vendors, says Kranz.

3. The customer will become a co-innovator

Connected products give manufacturers key insights into how they are used by customers throughout their lifetimes. “There’s an opportunity to learn more uses of products, which feeds product development,” says Kranz. “The other aspect of this is that it offers device makers the opportunity to wrap services around products in smart ways.”

Read more: Seven predictions for the Internet of Things in 2017

Standards, security, industries

4. We will see an industry-wide, accelerated move to open standards, open architectures and interoperability

As with many previous technology trends, there’s been an overwhelming lack of standardisation in IoT. Kranz predicts that in 2018, industry standards and consortia will consolidate. “We’re finally starting to see companies recognize that they need to open up architectures and get multiple ecosystems working together,” he says.

5. IoT will become the key security domain

Cyberattacks aren’t going away, but in 2018, Kranz believes that organizations “will finally begin to take IoT security seriously.” High-profile distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks have served as a huge wake-up call, he says, and we can expect to see a corresponding rise in investment in security, both on the part of IoT device makers and on the part of the consumers and enterprises that deploy them. “There’s a widespread recognition that not enough has been done thus far, so 2018 needs to be a year in which the threat landscape is tackled head-on,” says Kranz.

6. Agriculture and healthcare will emerge as top adopters of IoT technologies with the most innovative use cases

What could be more important than our food and our health? Manufacturing, transportation and smart cities may have led the charge as early adopters, says Kranz, but agriculture and healthcare are quickly emerging as serious contenders, in part because of the serious issues both industries face. Farming, for example, is grappling with challenges around climate change and food safety, while healthcare stands to gain from tackling the health issues around ageing populations and the need for more targeted, patient-specific treatment of conditions such as breast cancer.  

Read more: IoT on course to dominate connected landscape, says Cisco

Regulation, analytics, China

7. Governments will become more aggressive in legislating IoT security, open systems and interoperability standards

In 2018, Kranz expects to see the first IoT-specific regulations come into force. “In the US, Europe and other parts of the world, policymakers are stepping in, as they become more aware of IoT challenges. My concern here is that these regulations are not rushed through government without proper engagement with industry. To get the right outcomes, there needs to be close engagement between government and industry.”

8. IoT will revolutionize data analytics

IoT will drive a shift away from batch analytics based on static datasets to dynamic or real-time analytics and streaming data using AI and machine learning, Kranz predicts. “Next year, I expect to see analytics companies widely adopting AI to supplement their product sets.”

9. China will solidify its spot as top IoT innovator and adopter

“We need to recognize that, just as China has emerged as a leader in mobility and payment technologies, it’s also set to emerge as a leader in IoT, too,” says Kranz. For one thing, the government is investing heavily in IoT; for example, through its IoT Special Fund. For another, the huge Chinese population is increasingly an urban one, creating demand for smart cities. Finally, the industries on which the Chinese economy rely need to find new efficiencies to cope with rising wages. “The world needs to pay attention to what China is doing – and learn from it,” says Kranz.

10. The focus of IoT will move from driving efficiency to creating new business value

Early IoT focused on improving existing processes, as seen in early M2M efforts, for example. “They were about squeezing more efficiency and productivity out of existing capabilities,” says Kranz. “Now, where we’re heading is companies using IoT to create new value propositions: in manufacturing, for example, we’re starting to see more mass customization, more mass personalization, creating new products and building new revenue streams based on a stream of intelligent data that drives decision-making.”

Read more: Cisco announces $ 1 billion smart cities fund

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