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Gold Level Contributor

Image: Reuters

A new security law being unveiled on Tuesday threatens telecoms giants with hefty fines if they fail to tighten security.

The Telecommunications Security Bill bans the involvement of Chinese firm Huawei in the UK's 5G mobile network.

But it also says that companies which fail to meet deadlines for higher security requirements could face enormous fines.

Some of these could be 10% of turnover, or more than £100,000 a day.

Attempts to ban Huawei from the 5G network have been continuing for more than a year. But the new bill is the first step in enshrining such bans in law, and offers details of exactly how it will work - assuming Parliament passes it.

The bill provides government with national security powers, allowing it to give instructions to the big telecoms companies such as BT about how they use "high risk" vendors including Huawei.

But a new measure contained within the draft law is that any companies which do not live up to expectations will face heavy fines for failure. The threatened sum of £100,000 a day would only be used in the case of "continuing contravention", the government said.

Ofcom, the communications regulator, will be given the job of policing the rules - along with new powers it may need to do so.

The move to formally legislate follows months of national and international political wrangling over the company's threat to security and its alleged links to the Chinese state.

Initially, the UK decided that Huawei equipment should be removed from the sensitive part of the core network, and only make up a maximum of 35% of the non-core systems. The deadline was set to be 2023.

However, amid pressure from the United States, it was revised to order the complete removal of Huawei kit from the entire 5G network by 2027.

In recent days, Huawei has commissioned economic research showing that a ban on its 5G equipment will prove a costly setback to the UK's 5G ambitions, and has mounted a publicity campaign with a simple message to the government - you're making a big mistake.

 

The Chinese company seemed to think that the defeat of Donald Trump, whose US administration had lobbied so hard for the ban, might make ministers think again. If so, this bill shows that assumption was wrong, though both Huawei and the mobile operators will be relieved that the government has resisted pressure from some Conservative MPs to move the deadline to remove its equipment forward to 2025.

Huawei may also be more focused now on making sure other countries in Europe do not follow the UK's lead. Meanwhile, the mobile operators are getting on with signing new deals with Nokia and Ericsson, and seem to be markedly less vocal in their claims that taking Huawei out of the equation would be a costly catastrophe.

"We are investing billions to roll out 5G and gigabit broadband across the country, but the benefits can only be realised if we have full confidence in the security and resilience of our networks," Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden said.

 

"This groundbreaking bill will give the UK one of the toughest telecoms security regimes in the world and allow us to take the action necessary to protect our networks."

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said the security obligations were likely to include things such as rules on who had access to sensitive parts of the "core" network, how security audits were conducted, and protecting customer data.

The technical director of the National Cyber Security Centre, Dr Ian Levy, said "our national networks and operators need to know what is expected of them".

He added: "We are committed to driving up standards, and this bill imposes new telecoms security requirements which will help operators make better risk-management decisions."

Huawei, however, dismissed such concerns about its own operations.

"This decision is politically motivated and not based on a fair evaluation of the risks," said Huawei vice-president Victor Zhang.

"It does not serve anyone's best interests as it would move Britain into the digital slow lane and put at risk the government's levelling-up agenda."

Analysis by Rory Cellan-Jones - Technology Correspondent
BBC | November 24, 2020

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Silver Level Contributor
How the UK' first electric forecourt will look when it opens in November
 
According to the partners, they want to offer the convenience and amenities of a petrol station to electric car drivers looking to charge their vehicle in “all-new ways”.
 

Two eco-companies have partnered to bring high-powered EV charging forecourts for electric vehicles to the UK.

SportsArt, a green fitness brand that develops sustainable gym equipment, and Gridserve a tech-enabled international sustainable energy business, will complete construction this month of the first all-new Electric Forecourt, located close to Braintree, Essex. The Essex location will be the first of more than 100 sites planned to be built out by Gridserve in the next five years.

Electric car drivers

According to the partners, they want to offer the convenience and amenities of a petrol station to electric car drivers looking to charge their vehicle in “all-new ways”. 

The site will have 30 rapid car chargers in total. Another 24 will be provided by ABB and provide charging for all EV models. There will also be six Tesla Superchargers dedicated to the brand’s models.

“We’re excited to be a part of this progressive partnership with Gridserve,” said Ruben Mejia, executive vice president of SportsArt. “SportsArt’s mission is to deliver sustainable and eco-friendly options; the Electric Forecourt is a prime example of an innovative opportunity that will bring these alternatives to an entire community.”

While vehicles are charging, drivers will be able to take advantage of the amenities including SportsArt’s upright cycles that allow users to burn calories while also reducing their carbon footprint

Key amenities of the Electric Forecourt include:

  • Electric charging stations to accommodate 36 electric vehicles that can deliver up to 350kW of charging power within 20 to 30 minutes
  • Wellbeing area featuring SportsArt’s G576U upright cycles
  • Lounge with high-speed wi-fi, high end washrooms and children’s area
  • Retail space with convenient supermarkets and coffee shops for customers to browse as their cars charge
  • Designated spot for non-EV drivers to come and learn more about low-emission motoring.

While vehicles are charging, drivers will be able to take advantage of the amenities including SportsArt’s upright cycles that allow users to burn calories while also reducing their carbon footprint. The technology captures human energy produced through pedalling and turns it into usable energy to contribute to the power grid for charging vehicles.

“Partnering with SportsArt forms a key part of our mission to support education initiatives, helping people to understand more about energy, and how clean energy can help contribute towards healthy and more sustainable lifestyles,” said Toddington Harper, founder and CEO of Gridserve.

“This fully-loaded customer experience will cater to a range of consumer and driver needs.”

Originally published by
SmartCitiesWorld News Team | November 4, 2020
Smart Cities World

 
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Bronze Level Contributor

The U.K.’s Eat Out to Help Out campaign — which offered a 50 percent discount at restaurants on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays during August — was dramatically successful in boosting sales. The taxpayers shelled out $647 million for the rescue program, which subsidized the cost of meals and nonalcoholic drinks.

A new study, however, said the program may have also contributed to boosting the spread of COVID-19, Bloomberg reported.

The study, conducted by the University of Warwick, found that the program may have pumped up coronavirus cases from 8 percent to 17 percent during the summer alone. And the resulting asymptomatic infections may have helped fuel the current surge of coronavirus cases in the United Kingdom, Bloomberg said.

In some areas, there was “both a notable increase in new COVID-19 infection clusters within a week of the scheme starting, and again a deceleration in infections within two weeks of the program ending,” said Thiemo Fetzer, an associate professor of economics.

Now, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has done an about-face. In August, his goal was to reopen the economy. He has now ordered a one-month stay-at-home policy for England beginning on Thursday (Nov. 5).

Johnson’s restaurant stimulus program was so successful that visits more than doubled in the last week of the program compared with the same period a year earlier, Bloomberg said. The discount offered was worth as much as 10 pounds per person to eat out in tens of thousands of participating restaurants.

The U.K. Chancellor Rishi Sunak said that “at least 35 million meals were served up in the first two weeks alone; that is equivalent to over half of the U.K. taking part and supporting local jobs in the hospitality sector.”

In September, a survey by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) concluded that patrons of restaurants and bars are more likely to contract COVID-19.

Originally published by
Pymnts | November 2, 2020

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Silver Level Contributor

Image: Jacob King

Covid tests with results within an hour are being piloted in universities - which could help students in England get home for Christmas.

More than a million students will have to travel from their term-time accommodation in December.

This has raised concerns about spreading coronavirus as students move across the country between areas with different levels of infection.

In Scotland universities could switch to more online teaching in January.

Christmas migration

Universities have called for a testing system with a rapid turnaround of results.

But there have been questions about the feasibility of how quickly this could be scaled up - and how to avoid what the SAGE scientific advisory group calls the "significant risk" of students causing outbreaks by moving for Christmas and New Year.

De Montfort and Durham universities are now running pilot projects for rapid Covid testing, including identifying those who might be infectious but have no symptoms.

 

In England, about 1.2 million students are expected to move in December from a university to a home address in another region, where there might be different levels of infection and restrictions.

This includes 200,000 students travelling away from universities in London, 235,000 from the south east, 120,000 leaving the north west, 123,000 out of Yorkshire and Humber and 120,000 from the West Midlands.

In Scotland, 150,000 students will be travelling home.

8088068700?profile=RESIZE_710x

Students in Scotland have protested about how they are being treated in the pandemic - Image: Jane Barlow

A decision, involving all four devolved governments and education ministries in the UK, is awaited on the logistics of getting students home for Christmas, in a way that will not cause Covid outbreaks.

So far this term there have been virus cases in 118 universities across the UK, according to tracking by the Unicovid website, with tens of thousands of students having to self-isolate.

Staggered end of term

England's Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has proposed an early end to teaching in person, creating a two-week buffer in which to get students home for the holidays.

In Scotland, Education Secretary John Swinney has suggested a staggered end of term and has not ruled out students being kept in universities over the break, if "we have a situation where the virus has not been controlled".

Universities, who would face the challenge of keeping students in Christmas isolation, have called for a faster system of mass testing.

8088069478?profile=RESIZE_710x

Universities want tests with a rapid turnaround of results - Image: PA Media

"Enhanced testing capacity - including faster turnaround of results and effective contact tracing - will help to contain outbreaks at universities and limit transmission to the wider community," says a Universities UK spokesman.

The 'lateral flow tests' now being piloted are intended to find out whether someone has "high enough levels of Covid-19 in their body to make them infectious to others", says a statement from Durham University.

Using a nose and throat swab, the tests would be self-administered and would not need a laboratory to process the results.

Switching to online

The Department for Health and Social Care says the aim of the pilots would be to "turn around rapid results within an hour at the location of the test".

And the DHSC says the pilots at Durham and De Montfort will see how such tests could be used "at scale".

Durham says the pilot project, beginning this week for staff and students in two of its colleges, will be able to deliver results within 20 to 30 minutes.

Once students have been safely removed from university in December there will then be questions about how they can be brought back in January, without triggering another wave of campus outbreaks.

The Scottish government says there could be more online teaching at the start of next term and in areas of "high prevalence" of infection in-person teaching might be reserved for those taking subjects which needed hands-on training.

The UCU lecturers' union has threatened legal action against the continuing use of in-person teaching, while the SAGE advisory group has called for as much teaching as possible to be online.

The DHSC says the testing pilots are "building the foundations for a mass testing programme" which could also help reduce the number of school pupils having to be sent home in Covid outbreaks.

Originally published by
Sean Coughlan | October 27, 2020
BBC News

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Gold Level Contributor

Brits will be able to get cashback from shops without needing to buy anything, under new proposals from the UK Government to protect the nation's cash system.

The decision follows years of campaigning from consumer advocates over the disappearance of cash from the UK's high streets as banks abandon branches and rip out ATMs. The global pandemic has further accelerated the decline of cash, forcing the Government's hand to introduce new rules to ensure that cash remains available for those who prefer it to digital alternatives.

John Glen, economic secretary to the Treasury, says: "We know that cash is still really important for consumers and businesses - that’s why we promised to legislate to protect access for everyone who needs it.

"We want to harness the same creative thinking that has driven innovation in digital payments to maintain the UK’s cash system and make sure people can easily access cash in their local area."

The Government says Britain's imminent exit from the EU will enable it to skirt PSD2 rules that currently label cashback without a purchase as a regulated payment service.

Alongside legislating for retail cash back, the Government is also proposing to provide the Financial Conduct Authority with overall responsibility for maintaining a "well-functioning" retail cash system.

At present, The Bank of England, Financial Conduct Authority, Payment Systems Regulator, and HM Treasury each have specific roles and responsibilities for oversight of the cash system.

Says the UK Treasury: "Close coordination between these authorities has been highly effective, particularly in managing risks to cash through Covid-19, but there may be significant benefits to giving a single authority overall responsibility for setting requirements to meet the cash needs of consumers and SMEs."

The Government has entered a six-week call for evidence from consumer organisations, businesses, financial institutions, and providers of ATM and payment services in order to seek views on "how to ensure industry continues to offer ways to withdraw and deposit cash, how to improve cashback, what affects cash acceptance, and where regulatory responsibility should sit".

The proposals have already come in for criticism from financial accountancy firm Old Mill. Phil Mills, Old Mill head of food and drink says the proposals could hit already struggling businesses hard due to the cost of handling cashback for free, and – for many who have already gone cashless, encouraged by the Government during Covid-19 – the cost of bringing cashback onto the premises.

"Businesses face costs in handling cash and bank charges, which are factored into the price consumers pay for goods," he continues. "Even if the cashback transaction itself was made free to businesses somehow, without a purchase, there is nothing in this for the business, who is also having to pay the wages of the person processing the transaction."

Originally published by
Finextra | October 15, 2020

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Gold Level Contributor

Even before lockdown, measures implemented by the mayor have helped to bring about a 94 per cent reduction in the number of Londoners living in areas exceeding legal limits for nitrogen dioxide.

Latest data reveals a major improvement in London’s air quality since 2016. New modelling of pollution in 2019 shows that measures implemented by the mayor have helped transform London’s air even before the coronavirus lockdown.

City Hall admits there is there is still a long way to go, though, with tens of thousands of Londoners still living in areas with illegally polluted air and 99 per cent of the UK capital still exceeds the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) recommended limits.

Main air pollutants

There are two main air pollutants of concern in London, based on their impact on human health: nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and particulate matter (PM2.5). Poor air quality stunts the growth of children’s lungs and worsens chronic illness, such as asthma, lung and heart disease.

The report – which includes new data from the Environmental Research Group now at Imperial College London – reveals that the number of state primary and secondary schools located in areas exceeding legal pollution limits (NO2) has fallen from 455 in 2016 to only 14 in 2019, a huge reduction of 97 per cent.

It also reveals a 94 per cent reduction in the number of Londoners living in areas exceeding legal limits for nitrogen dioxide (NO2).

There is still much more work to do before London meets legal pollution limits and Londoners breathe clean air. Research shows that those exposed to the worst air pollution are more likely to be deprived Londoners and from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities. There is also emerging evidence linking air pollution with an increased vulnerability to the most severe impacts of Covid-19.

Almost a quarter (24 per cent) of roads in inner London still exceed the legal limits for NO2. For dangerous particles (PM2.5), the challenge is greater still with only one per cent of London meeting WHO recommended limits. This underlines the need to expand the ultra low emission zone (Ulez) to the North and South Circular roads in 2021 as 3.8 million people live within the expanded Ulez zone.

The success of the existing central London Ulez and other action taken by the mayor gives confidence that expansion of the Ulez will help deliver wider benefits for London, including saving the NHS around £5bn and preventing more than one million hospital admissions over the next 30 years.

The fact that 99 per cent of London does not meet WHO recommended limits adds to the growing evidence and cross-party consensus that these limits should be included in the Environment Bill as a legally binding target to be met by 2030.

“I was elected on a mandate to deliver hard-hitting measures to tackle our toxic air crisis. Today’s report confirms the transformative impact that my policies have had in just four years. I’m pleased that Londoners are breathing cleaner air, that we’re saving the NHS billions of pounds and preventing over a million hospital admissions,” said mayor of London, Sadiq Khan.

He continued: “However, air pollution remains a major public health challenge and it’s time for government to step up, set ambitious national targets and provide the powers and funding we need to consign air pollution to the history books. We can’t sleep walk from the health crisis of Covid back into complacency over the major impact of toxic air on everyone’s health.”

Dr Gary Fuller, senior lecturer in air pollution measurement at Imperial College London, said breathing bad air has had an intolerable impact on Londoners’ health for far too long. “In our operations centre we have been measuring London’s air pollution for nearly 30 years. During this time we’ve seen deteriorations followed by a long period when some places showed slow improvement, and others slowly worsened. It felt like we were at a standstill.

He added: “But, the changes in nitrogen dioxide in central London and along main bus routes before Covid were some of the fastest that we’ve ever measured. Starting around 2016, London’s air pollution underwent a dramatic change and this time it was change for the better. These successes show that our city’s air pollution is not an intractable problem and further action can bring even greater results.”

Originally published by
SmartCitiesWorld News Team | October 5, 2020
Smart Cities World

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Silver Level Contributor

The HydroFlex train has begun trials in the UK.   Image: University of Birmingham

Britain’s first hydrogen train has begun trials in the Midlands while Tees Valley in north-east England is announced as the location for the nation’s first hydrogen transport hub.

Trials of the first ever hydrogen powered train on a UK mainline have taken place with plans to retrofit current in-service trains with the technology from 2023 to help deliver on the UK’s net-zero targets.

The trials of the train, known as HydroFlex, follow two years’ development work and more than £1m of investment by both rolling stock solutions provider Porterbrook and the University of Birmingham. The project has also been supported with a £750,000 grant from the Department for Transport (DfT).

Hydrogen hub

Transport secretary Grant Schapps also revealed plans for Tees Valley to become a hydrogen transport hub, bringing together industry and academia with the aim of becoming a global leader in the field and to help create hundreds of green jobs.

“As we continue on our road to a green recovery, we know that to really harness the power of transport to improve our country – and to set a global gold standard – we must truly embed change,” said Schapps. 

“That’s why I’m delighted that through our plans to build back better we are embracing the power of hydrogen and the more sustainable, greener forms of transport it will bring.”

To kick start the development in Tees Valley, the DfT has commissioned a masterplan to understand the feasibility of the hub and how it can accelerate the UK’s ambitions in hydrogen.

According to the DfT, the masterplan will pave the way for exploring how green hydrogen could power buses, HGV, rail, maritime and aviation transport across the UK. The aim would then be for the region to kick on and become a global leader in industrial research on the subject of hydrogen as a fuel as well as an R&D hub for hydrogen transport more generally, attracting hundreds of jobs and boosting the local economy in the process.

The Government also pledged £6.3m of funding for a green hydrogen refuelling station and 19 hydrogen-powered refuse vehicles in Glasgow as part of its £23m Hydrogen for Transport programme.

“With the growing demand to switch to a net zero economy, the advancement of R&D means we can further demonstrate this innovative technology for road, rail, and freight and logistics as an efficient and economic solution,” said Julian David, CEO, TechUK.

“TechUK is excited to work together with the tech community and the Government to spearhead the market offering for green hydrogen.”

The next stage in the development of HydroFLEX will see the University of Birmingham develop a hydrogen and battery powered module that can be fitted underneath the train, allowing for more space for passengers in the train’s carriage.

Originally published by SmartCitiesWorld News Team | October 1, 2020
Smart Cities World

 

 

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Gold Level Contributor

TSB to close a third of branches and cut 900 staff

TSB is to shutter a third of its branch network and layoff 900 staff, citing a shift in customer behviour as users shun the high street in favour of remote banking services.

The UK bank intends to close 164 of its branches, in addition to 21 closures already announced, shrinking the network from 475 outlets to just 290.

TSB says branches earmarked for closure have been selected to ensure 94% of customers can travel in 20 minutes or less to a branch, and the new network will have an average of 17,000 customers per site. In addition, it is strengthening its relationship with the Post Office, adding the ability to deposit and withdraw cash over the counter, and introducing 100 roving mobile advisors to reach communities outside the network.

TSB chief Debbie Crosbie, says: “Closing any of our branches is never an easy decision, but our customers are banking differently - with a marked shift to digital banking.

“We are reshaping our business to transform the customer experience and set us up for the future. This means having the right balance between branches on the high street and our digital platforms, enabling us to offer the very best experience for our personal and business customers across the UK.

The programme will see 969 jobs cut while 120 new operational positions are being created, resulting in an overall net reduction of 849 roles.

Changes are being made across the branch network, and in mortgages and customer service operations teams. The bank expects the majority of job losses to come through voluntary redundancy.

Labour union Unite branded the announcement as a 'dark day for the finance sector'.

Unite national officer Dominic Hook says: "It beggars belief that just seven years ago TSB had 631 local branches and this announcement will reduce that number to merely 290 branches. "

Originally published by 
Finextra | September 30, 2020
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Gold Level Contributor

UK Police told not to download NHS Covid-19 app

Image: Getty
 
The National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) has confirmed officers are being told not to install the NHS Covid-19 app on their work smartphones.
 
The app detects when users have been in proximity to someone with the virus.
 
Some officers have also been told they may not need to obey self-isolate alerts generated by the app when downloaded to their personal phones.
 
Lancashire Constabulary has told staff to call the force's own Covid-19 helpline instead.
 
The BBC contacted the North-West of England force after a source said the advice had been given because of "security reasons".
 
The source also said officers had been told not to carry their personal phones while on duty if they had activated the app.
 
This applies to staff working in public-facing roles as well as those in back-office positions.
 
"The health and wellbeing of our officers, staff and the public remains our priority," a Lancashire Constabulary spokeswoman subsequently told the BBC.
 
"Members of staff, like all members of the public, are personally able to download the Track and Trace application should they choose to do so. Guidance provided to staff within the workplace remains in line with the national NPCC position."
 
The NPCC confirmed the work-phones policy was common to all forces, but said it was carrying out an urgent review of the matter.
 
"We have been taking time to review the specifications of the app to assess the implications for policing," added a spokesman.
 
The council might drop the policy as soon as Tuesday.
 
NHS Covid-19 launched last Thursday, since when it has been downloaded more than 12 million times.
 
In addition to contact-tracing, it also offers a way for users to scan codes when they enter a building to log they were there, as well as a means to check if they have symptoms of the coronavirus and to order a test.
 
The NPCC had previously raised concerns about officers sharing information with human contact tracers on the grounds it could compromise undercover work and other sensitive operations.
 
But since the app is designed to keep people's identities secret, this should not be a problem in this case.
 
Originally published by
Rory Cellan-JonesTechnology correspondent | September 28, 2020
BBC
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Silver Level Contributor

Fieldwork Robotics’ work already bore fruit with automated raspberry picker.

British farmers could be using robots to fill gaps in recruitment of fruit and vegetable pickers after Fieldwork Robotics began work with Bonduelle Group, one of the world’s leading vegetable producers.

Fieldwork, a spin out from the University of Plymouth, will initially work on the detection and soft robotics technology with a view to produce an early-stage prototype during the second year of the collaboration.

Bonduelle will provide access to fields and expertise in vegetables and knowledge of different growing and harvesting conditions. The partnership is initially expected to last for three years, and is expected to result in a prototype ready for commercial manufacture.

This is the second application of Fieldwork’s patented agricultural robot technology to gain food industry backing. The company has already collaborated with Hall Hunter partnership, one of the UK’s largest soft fruit producers for a raspberry-harvesting robot and is currently working with Bosch to optimise software and the design of the robotic arms.

Raspberries were initially chosen because they are more challenging to harvest than any other soft fruits. Delicate and damaged easily, they grow on bushes with complex foliage and berry distribution.

"Bonduelle has a strong commitment to sustainable and diversified agriculture in all of the territories where we operate globally,” said Iaudine Lambert, Group Agronomy Director, Bonduelle Prospective and Development. “New technologies can play an important part in meeting that commitment, so we are delighted to be collaborating with Fieldwork Robotics and excited by the potential of its agricultural robots."

Rui Andres, CEO, Fieldwork Robotics, said: "We have already enjoyed significant progress through our collaboration with Hall Hunter Partnership on the raspberry-harvesting version of the technology. The agreement with Bonduelle to collaborate on developing a second iteration of Fieldwork’s agricultural robots is a strong validation of the technology. We are very much looking forward to working with them to develop an effective system to harvest cauliflowers."

Significant progress has already been made on the automated cauliflower picking front. Company co-founder Dr. Martin Stoelen, lecturer in robotics at the University of Plymouth and associate professor at the Western Norway University of Applied Science, initially started developing a cauliflower harvesting robot system in a project funded by Agri-Tech Cornwall, an initiative joint-funded by European Union and Cornwall council. He has also worked on a tomato-harvesting project run in partnership with the Shanghai Jiao Tong University.

Fieldwork has raised £318,000 so far this year to accelerate development and scale up the technology. It has also been supported by a £547,250 Innovate UK grant as part of a £671,484 project to develop a multi-armed robot prototype. Other partners in the project included the University of Plymouth and the National Physical Laboratory. Innovate UK recently provided further support through a £84,000 continuity grant.

Originally published by
SmartCitiesWorld News Team | September 24, 2020
Smart Cities World

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Gold Level Contributor

UK communities prepare for cash access pilots

Pop-up post offices, purchase-free in-store cash back and a financial hub inside a church are among the ideas being tested to help communities across the UK retain free access to cash.

The pilots follow the publication of the 2019 Access to Cash Review, which found that 17% of the UK population rely on cash, with vulnerable communities, including the poor and those in rural areas, at particular risk from reduced access to cash. The Covid-19 pandemic has further heightened the problem, with many high street businesses spurning cash payments in favour of contactless transactions.

Having picked eight communities to pilot a range of possible solutions in June, the Access to Cash project has now added a ninth and outlined what actions each area will test over the next few months.

Among the plans to be trialled are 'banking hubs’ in dedicated retail spaces, which combine the cash-transaction facilities of a Post Office with access to community banking services offered by high street players. In one community, a financial hub space will be set up in the local Methodist Church, with support from the major banks, debt advice, and support for financial issues.

Existing Post Office branches will be restructured and refurbished with cash services streamlined to make it easier to withdraw and deposit cash quickly and safely. Meanwhile, pop-up Post Office services will let small communities access basic banking services over a counter within an existing small shop.

There will also be a push to increase the number of businesses offering cashback, some without requiring people to make purchases.

Natalie Ceeney, chair, Community Access to Cash Pilot, says: "The rapid switch to digital is threatening the viability of today’s cash infrastructure. This can lead to consumers left without cash access or forced to leave their own village or town to get cash elsewhere, often at significant inconvenience and cost.

"In turn, local retailers lose custom, as consumers spend their case elsewhere, and then struggle to bank their cash takings without shutting up shop to drive to a bank branch some miles away, losing revenue and frustrating customers. It’s critical that we find ways to protect the viability of cash, for consumers and communities alike.

"These pilots are designed to find sustainable ways to keep cash viable locally, which, if successful, can then be rolled out more widely. The government has already committed to legislate to protect cash, and the financial services regulators are working closely with banks to identify practical next steps. Our aim is to use the pilots to critically inform this work."
 
Originally published by
Finextra | September 23, 2020

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Silver Level Contributor

Barclays to send staff back to working from home

Image: Getty Images

Barclays will tell "hundreds" of UK staff who had gone back to the office to return to working from home.

The bank told the BBC it was making the move following the latest guidance from the government that people should work at home when they can.

About 1,000 Barclays employees worldwide returned to the office over the summer.

French bank Societe Generale and the insurance market Lloyd's of London also told their UK staff to work from home.

Barclays said it would not be releasing a country-specific number on those returning to work from home.

The bank had said it would carry out a "gradual" return to the office in October, after chief executive Jess Staley signalled that he wanted employees working from home during the pandemic to return to the office "over time".

"It is important to get people back together in physical concentrations," he told Bloomberg TV in July.

However, not all banks take the same view. NatWest has said staff can continue to work from home until next year.

On Tuesday, Societe Generale said it was also "adapting its position in line with UK government guidance", without stating the number of workers in its London offices would now work from home.

Lloyd's of London said it had told its 800 directly employed staff to work from home but that this did not apply to the independent brokers who use its Lime Street headquarters.

"Lloyd's underwriting room is certified as a Covid-secure environment and will remain open for market participants," the company said.

'Crushing blows'

Business groups have reacted with dismay to the prime minister's call for people to work at home where they can.

The CBI said that it was a "crushing" blow that would have a "devastating impact".

It marks a change in policy following a government advertising campaign to get people back to work where safe.

Campaign group London First said it would discourage people from returning to workplaces and risk "derailing an already fragile recovery".

CBI director-general Carolyn Fairbairn told the BBC: "We know we need to avoid a second national lockdown at all if we possibly can, but I have to say these are crushing blows.

"The impact on people who are coming back into their offices, the impact on city centres, so dependent on the bustle of city life, our creative industries - this will have a devastating impact on people and businesses.

"And I think that the answer for business, and what I'm hearing in my conversations this morning, is make it a short, sharp shock if it has to happen."

Appearing on the Emma Barnett Show on Radio 5 live, she said she was speaking to the programme from her office and that "about 15%" of her people were in.

"They're excited about coming back, we need to plan to bring more people back. It's good for morale, it's good for learning, it's good for creativity and so many businesses are feeling that, so this is a backward move that won't be welcomed, and let's make it as short as it needs to be."

"The new restrictions must be regularly reviewed to minimise the damage to the economy while safeguarding the health of the nation in the round - not just physical health, but mental health and our economic health, said London First chief executive Jasmine Whitbread.

She also called for the government to extend business rates relief and to introduce a "targeted" version of the furlough scheme, which is due to end on 31 October.

As well as the change in stance on working from home, Boris Johnson also confirmed that pubs and restaurants in England will have to close at 22:00 from Thursday to stop the spread of the coronavirus. He warned that the new measures could last up to six months.

Ms Whitbread said: "A targeted version of the furlough scheme would help those hardest hit in leisure, retail and hospitality."

Roger Barker, director of policy at the Institute of Directors, said the spread of coronavirus was not wholly predictable, but the "back and forth" on office working would cause "frustration".

He added: "Business leaders are eager for the government to focus on the foundations, issues like childcare, public transport, and getting the testing system firing on all cylinders."

Originally published by
BBC | September 22, 2020

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Silver Level Contributor

Manchester scored well in areas such as emissions and eco-measures

The research, carried out by Honda, was based on a range of factors including household recycling, domestic CO2 emissions and household eco measures, combined with survey responses.

Residents in Manchester, Plymouth, Nottingham and Glasgow have emerged as the most eco-friendly in their everyday lives, in a new study from Honda.

The league table was compiled from household recycling data, domestic COemissions and household eco measures. This was combined with survey responses from more than 2,000 UK adults asking about smart meters, commuting methods and their attitudes toward being more environmentally friendly.

Eco-friendly

Manchester residents claim the top spot for being the ‘greenest’ people in Great Britain, followed by Plymouth, Nottingham and Glasgow. In fact, Plymouth respondents achieved the highest score for their attitudes towards being eco-friendly.

While more respondents in Newcastle upon Tyne reported they have a smart meter installed than any other city (51 per cent compared to Britain’s average of 41 per cent), Southampton takes the crown for the lowest estimate of domestic CO2 emissions, followed by Exeter and Portsmouth.

At the other end of the scale is London, Norwich and Sheffield, with the latter receiving the lowest score for their attitude towards being more eco-friendly.

According to the survey, Norwich’s residents have fewer smart meters among them than any other city in Britain, with only 28 per cent saying they currently have one in their home. Furthermore, while Birmingham places fifth in the overall league table, residents there have the lowest score in the country for recycling their household waste.

“With global warming and climate change being one of the biggest concerns to face our planet, there is no denying that there is an ever-growing importance to address what we do now to protect the world we live in”

To understand the extent to which people’s attitudes towards being eco-friendly may have changed as a result of experiencing lockdown, Honda commissioned a second survey, and while some attitudes remain similar, there are differences to note. While three-fifths (62 per cent) believe their recycling habits have stayed the same throughout lockdown, 26 per cent say they now recycle more and 10 per cent recycle less.

Of those who have been recycling more, half say it is because they have had more time to recycle. However, of those who have recycled less, 29 per cent say do not see the point in trying to recycle more and 27 per cent can’t be bothered.

Before lockdown

Less people now turn all lights and electricals off every time they leave a room (41 per cent) compared to the 46 per cent that said they did before lockdown. Cardiff now do this more than any other city (60 per cent), but Norwich’s residents turn all lights and electricals off when leaving a room less often than anyone else (10 per cent).

 “With global warming and climate change being one of the biggest concerns to face our planet, there is no denying that there is an ever-growing importance to address what we do now to protect the world we live in. As Honda continue to work towards a more electrified future, we want to celebrate the people in Britain who are actively thinking of the environment and trying to be more eco-friendly in their everyday lives,” said Rebecca Stead, head of automobile at Honda UK.

She continued: “It’s important we all do what we can to take steps to help the environment and we want to champion those that are doing this. We hope this research will also encourage more people to do the same and take any step they can – big and small – to protect the planet.”

Publication of the research marks the release of Honda’s first fully electric car, the Honda e. The full research can be found here.

Originally published by
SmartCitiesWorld News Team | September 14, 2020
Smart Cities World

 

 

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Silver Level Contributor

The Virolens device, developed by iAbra, uses a digital microscope and artificial intelligence-powered software to visually search a mouth swab sample for signs of the novel coronavirus. (Getty Images)

Two British companies are preparing to launch a simple COVID-19 saliva screening test that aims to provide an accurate result within 20 seconds—following its first uses at London’s Heathrow airport, one of the busiest in the world.

The Virolens device, developed by iAbra, uses a digital microscope and artificial intelligence-powered software to visually search a mouth swab sample for signs of the novel coronavirus.

The machine provides a low-cost, repeatable and self-administered method of screening, allowing hundreds of cartridge-based tests to be performed each day, according to iAbra’s manufacturing partner TT Electronics. Validation studies by the University of Bristol have pegged the system’s false-negative rate of 0.2%, alongside a false-positive rate of 3.3%.

The Virolens device underwent its first rounds of field testing among Heathrow employees, and its developers are now planning full clinical trials to gain certifications for medical use.

“I have experienced iAbra’s test myself, alongside the PCR test—it is quicker and cheaper, and potentially more accurate,” said Heathrow Airport CEO John Holland Kaye. “We urge the government to fast-track this technology to protect the economy and help save millions of jobs in this country.” 

According to a report from the Financial Times, iAbra said the machine will cost less than $20,000, with cartridge testing kits about “the price of a paperback book.” 

Originally published by
Conor Hale | September 10, 2020
Fierce Biotech

 

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Gold Level Contributor

Echoing Prime Minister’s Boris Johnson pledge to 'double down on levelling up' the UK economy, Citi Bank’s Tony McLaughlin believes the country can become an even more friendly environment for fintech and should be looking outside “a small perimeter around Old Street”.

Tony McLaughlin believes that the UK needs to double down on fintech to spearhead the post-Covid economic recovery, but needs to look outside London for the innovative companies that will be the catalyst of this.

“If you think about fintech as a way of working, companies have got access to global markets because their software is scalable across the world. Naturally fintech is a type of business where software is created collaboratively, where people work in new styles, where not everyone has to be in same office or location,” he tells Finextra Research.

“So, I take issue with the sector being too London focused. I think, if anything, efforts can be made to promote fintech in other locations which have got great software development capability within the UK.”

There may now be an increased desire to harness these capabilities. Large numbers of people have spent the last six months working from home, so the idea of journeying into London for four or five days a week may now seem like an unnecessary exercise.

This may dilute the importance of the capital city and see companies be more aggressive in harnessing the technology capabilities around the rest of the UK.

Beyond Brexit and Covid

Perhaps following the lead of jurisdictions like Switzerland and Singapore, policymakers in the UK should be looking at where its fintech sector has a natural advantage and how this can be augmented.

“In the AI space, for example, there’s some great expertise in the UK - DeepMind came from the UK, for example - so there are places where the country’s natural advantages could be leveraged in fintech,” McLaughlin says.

“Fintech is probably not material enough to necessarily lift the whole economy out of a recession, but it is certainly going to be a big contributor.”

While it is tempting to view the outlook for fintech primarily through a Brexit or a Covid lens, it will be important for companies to set their sights on the bigger picture of how businesses and consumers are likely to interact and transact in the years to come.

Imagining how the financial services will develop and how UK fintech should look to capitalise, McLaughlin refers to a McKinsey report of January 2018, which claimed that some $60 trillion worth of economic activity will be conducted in digital ecosystems by 2025, whether this be through B2B or direct-to-consumer platforms.

If McKinsey were asked to reevaluate this sum post-Covid, it is of course more likely that their lofty expectations would be inflated than deflated.

This will offer the opportunity to provide the financial services for such platforms, whether it be fintech companies, the banks themselves, or even big tech firms doing so.

Taking China as a model, financial services on platforms such as Alibaba and WeChat are provided by the companies themselves, which is also happening in the US with the GAFA firms.

Herding cats

However, the UK’s Open Banking ecosystem should create an environment where there will be room for manoeuvre and collaboration between the different players: banks acting like fintechs, fintechs acting like banks, banks acting like vendors and so on.

“Going forward, the opportunity for fintechs will not be providing an app that tells you how much coffee you’ve drunk, but embedding financial services into these mass-market consumer platforms,” McLaughlin says.

One such example of an area where UK fintech could respond to the needs of the financial markets is in digital identity, particularly how it pertains to the payments space.

According to David Birch of Consult Hyperion, payments equals identity plus accounting entries. While the latter is straightforward, it is identity that invariably proves the difficult bit.

The areas of the payments journey that are broken often come down to knowing beyond all doubt that the person performing a transaction is who they claim to be.

“I think another opportunity for the UK is maybe to focus on our foundational capability or infrastructure for the emerging digital economy, particularly in identity,” McLaughlin says.

“I’d like to see more fintechs take on those big foundational issues.”

Rather than simply offering white-label solutions (though there will remain a great deal of scope for these), fintechs should look to “herd the cats of the banking industry”, as McLaughlin puts it.

They should be looking to build industry-wide solutions in such areas as digital identity, as there is a great case for banks clubbing together to deliver interoperable digital identity, as already exists in Sweden.

“That’s one of the relatively unexplored avenues in the industry,” McLaughlin says.

Originally published by
Finextra | September 9, 2020

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Silver Level Contributor

Chip preps £10m crowdfunding campaign

UK smart savings app Chip says 25,000 people have pre-registered for its upcoming Crowdcube campaign, which aims to raise £10 million.

The campaign, which will start later this week, will see any funds raised matched by the Future Fund government initiative.

The funding will be used to build on Chip's 250,000-strong user-base and revenue model and to "continue ongoing discussions with VCs from a position of strength".

Simon Rabin, CEO, Chip, says: "We believe the most powerful way for a business to grow is to have thousands of investors advocating something they believe in.

"Our investor community has helped us get where we are now in more ways than simply investing, so we want to offer them the chance to maintain or improve their stake in our company and share in our success going forward."

The startup recently unveiled plans to offer interest-bearing accounts to customers, with all money bundled into a single shared trust account.
 
Originally published by
Finextra | September 8, 2020
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Bronze Level Contributor

Rare bit of good news on the jobs front as Amazon says it will create another 7,000 new jobs in the UK to cope with demand

E-commerce giant Amazon has announced that due to growing demand, it will create 10,000 permanent jobs in the United Kingdom in 2020.

It said that it had already created 3,000 jobs to its UK workforce, and when the 7,000 extra jobs are added this year, it will take its permanent UK workforce to 40,000.

The jobs will spread across its UK network of fulfilment centres, sort centres and delivery stations – including at a new hi-tech fulfilment centre in the North East of England which opened in May.

New jobs

The 7,000 jobs will also be located in Amazon’s corporate offices and two new fulfilment centres launching in the autumn in the North East and in the Midlands.

Amazon said the new roles would include engineers, graduates, HR and IT professionals, health and safety and finance specialists, as well as the teams who will pick, pack and ship customer orders.

The firm said it had already offered temporary roles to thousands of people whose job was impacted at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, many of whom will now be able to transition into a permanent role with the potential for a career within Amazon.

In addition, Amazon is creating more than 20,000 seasonal positions across the UK ahead of the festive period.

“While this has been a challenging time for many businesses, it is hugely encouraging to see Amazon creating 10,000 jobs in the UK this year,” said Business Secretary, Alok Sharma.

“This is not only great news for those looking for a new job, but also a clear vote of confidence in the UK economy as we build back better from the pandemic,” Sharma said. “The government remains deeply committed to supporting retailers of all sizes and we continue to work closely with the industry as we embark on the road to economic recovery.”

“The new state-of-the-art robotics fulfilment centres in the North East and the Midlands, as well as the thousands of additional roles at sites across the country, underline our commitment to the people and communities in which we operate,” added Stefano Perego, Amazon’s VP of European Customer Fulfilment.

Workforce relations

In March Amazon said it would hire 100,000 warehouse and delivery workers in the US, in response to a surge in online orders, as many consumers and households around the world entered self-isolation and lockdowns to minimise the spread of the Coronavirus pandemic.

But critics point to working conditions at Amazon, and its refusal to allow its workforce to unionise. Amazon instead has encouraged a policy where workers say their concerns with management.

Earlier this week Amazon reportedly withdrew two job adverts for “intelligence analysts”, and it was forced to deny the roles would entail spying on union activity within its workforce.

In May this year Tim Bray, a senior engineer with Amazon Web Services, resigned over Amazon’s decision to fire staff who had protested what they called insufficient virus protections.

Christian Smalls was fired after he had helped organise a walk out at the location (another took place in Detroit) in protest at Amazon’s alleged lack of protection of the workforce during the pandemic.

Five US senators sent Amazon chief Jeff Bezos a letter demanding more information on the firing of Christian Smalls.

In June the US state of California said it was looking into Amazon’s business practices as part of a broader inquiry into the company.

Originally posted by
Tom Jowitt | September 3, 2020
Silicon.co.uk

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Silver Level Contributor

Initially 100 scooters have been made available for residents in Milton Keynes

The Ford-owned micro-mobility unit is working closely with the UK city’s council to roll out its fleet responsibly and said public safety is the top priority.

Spin, the micro-mobility arm of Ford Motor Company, has announced its first UK local trial of its e-scooters for public hire in Milton Keynes.

This marks the company’s first market in the context of the recently legalised e-scooter trials taking place across the UK.

 Initially 100 scooters have been made available for residents to use with the aim of ramping the fleet up to around 300 scooters on the streets by mid-September.

 Public education events

Spin said it is working closely with Milton Keynes Council to roll out its fleet responsibly, with public safety being the top priority. The company has held a series of public education events for Milton Keynes residents to come out and learn more about how to ride safely. Spin plans to hold several additional safety and public engagement events in the next several weeks to raise awareness and ensure full compliance with local and national rules.

To take a trip, riders download the Spin App on their smartphone, review a comprehensive set of rules and safety guidelines, and then start their trip for £0.25 per minute (with no unlock fee, which normally costs £1 per ride). The scooters can be used on the town’s redways, which provide the local community with convenient connectivity across the town.

The company also offers all riders access Spin Safe Digital, an online learning resource that teaches riders how to start and end trips properly, parking techniques to ensure walkways are free of scooter clutter, and safe riding practices during Covid-19. Riders receive a £5 discount if they take an online quiz testing them on the rules.

“We’re excited to bring the first of our UK e-scooter fleets to Milton Keynes and had a highly-encouraging response from local riders at our Spin Safe events. This is the first of many e-scooter trials across the UK as part of our firm commitment to fully integrate e-scooters into local transportation ecosystems,” said Felix Petersen, head of Europe at Spin.

“We hope to responsibly fulfil the need UK residents have for this new transport mode as an accessible, inexpensive and greener alternative to cars and public transport.”

Spin has also applied for several other tenders for the local trials in order to expand the company’s presence in the UK including west of England, Oxford, Solent and Canterbury.

Seeking to become “carbon negative” by 2025, Spin also views the Milton Keynes trial as an opportunity to implement some of its forward-thinking environmental and sustainability goals including utilising Ford’s Transit plug-in electric hybrid vehicles to collect and recharge its e-scooter fleet over using diesel vans.

Originally published by
SmartCitiesWorld news team | August 24, 2020
SmartCitiesWorld

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Gold Level Contributor

American banking giant JPMorgan Chase is looking to launch its UK digital challenger in the first quarter of 2021, according to Sky News.

Rumours of JPMorgan's intention to launch a Chased-branded online lender in the UK have been circulating for a couple of years. Now a Q1 2021 target has been set, says Sky.

The US behemoth is understood to have signed on with Amazon Web Services for its cloud needs and 10x Future Technologies for its digital infrastructure.

JPMorgan was rumoured to be planning a sizeable equity investment in 10x, the fintech startup founded by former Barclays boss Antony Jenkins, back in 2019.

The bank will be following the lead of rival Goldman Sachs, which launched its Marcus brand in the UK in 2018 and now boasts over 500,000 customers. In June it closed its savings account to new customer after an influx of deposits during the Coronavirus pandemic.

JPMorgan's previous attempt at offering digital-only banking was short lived, with US mobile brand Finn lasting only a year before being shut down in June 2019.

In the UK it will be entering a crowded market, taking on digital challengers such as Monzo, Atom, Starling and Revolut, as well as the traditional high street giants.

Originally published by
Finextra | August 21, 2020

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Silver Level Contributor

The project will consider a broad range of low carbon heating alternatives

The UK Power Networks project aims to help local authorities identify zones where they can target their heat decarbonisation efforts and investment to achieve Net Zero

Electricity distributor UK Power Networks (UKPN) has announced a first-of-its-kind project to help local communities map out their Net Zero carbon future, at street level.

The initiative, called Heat Street, aims to help local authorities identify zones where they can target their heat decarbonisation efforts and investment to achieve Net Zero.

Low-carbon heating

Heating accounts for about one third of UK carbon emissions – almost 120 million tonnes of CO2 according to official estimates. With the Government’s legally binding commitment to Net Zero emissions by 2050 approaching, equipping the country with affordable, low-carbon heating remains a major challenge, according to UKPN.

Heat Street will take a “data-driven look” into the future to help local authorities – and private industry – in London, the South and East of England plan systems to cater for a significant rise in low carbon heating and energy efficiency measures, like better insulation.

UKPN plans to engage with property owners, local councils, property developers, businesses, academics and consumer groups to work out how specific local areas can best remove carbon from one of the country’s biggest emitters – heating.

Its engineers will analyse energy efficiency trends and carry out heat zoning assessments by combining information about the properties, homes and socioeconomics of each area.

This will enable engineers and strategists to create custom forecasts to identify the most efficient pathway to zero carbon heating, and even produce bespoke plans for specific local areas.

The project will consider a broad range of low carbon heating alternatives, including switching from gas boilers to electric heat pumps, installing cavity wall insulation, switching to another type of heating supply, or combinations of all. For the first time, Heat Street will create a model for forecasting uptake of the different technologies, that can be followed by other parts of the UK.

“We all know why we need to rapidly decarbonise heating – this project is about working out the ‘how’, said Ian Cameron, head of customer services and innovation at UK Power Networks.

“We’re excited to be getting out there and collaborate to decarbonise heat, bringing together people from all backgrounds to create a local street level map of net zero heating pathways by 2050.”

Heat zoning assessments will be based on the independent Energy Systems Catapult recommendations for local area energy planning, and the Association for Decentralised Energy’s recommendations in which specific areas are ‘zoned’ depending on their best type of Net Zero pathway.

For example, areas with a high number of flats are less suitable for heat pumps but will benefit from heat networks, or rural villages that are not connected to the gas network may be more likely to switch to heat pumps. Efforts to decarbonise heating could then be focused where the benefits can be most efficiently unlocked for customers.

Heat decarbonisation

“UK Power Networks’ Heat Street project will help to demonstrate the opportunities presented by a local, zoned approach to heat decarbonisation added Charlotte Owen, policy manager at the Association for Decentralised Energy.

“It will provide real examples of how we can strategically decarbonise our homes and buildings, while recognising that different local areas will take different pathways to net zero.”

She continued: “The ADE is delighted to be supporting [UKPN] in the launch of this innovative project, which builds on the work of the association and its members to advocate for a zoned approach to heat decarbonisation and energy efficiency.”

Originally published by
SmartCitiesWorld News Team | August 18, 2020
SmartCitiesWorld

 

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