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The Commerce Department will accept applications from companies that want to supply Huawei, but it remains blacklisted

No technical reason to exclude Huawei as 5G supplier, says UK committee

July 15, 2019

A UK parliamentary committee has concluded there are no technical grounds for excluding Chinese network kit vendor Huawei from the country’s 5G networks.

In a letter from the chair of the Science & Technology Committee to the UK’s digital minister Jeremy Wright, the committee says: “We have found no evidence from our work to suggest that the complete exclusion of Huawei from the UK’s telecommunications networks would, from a technical point of view, constitute a proportionate response to the potential security threat posed by foreign suppliers.”

Though the committee does go on to recommend the government mandate the exclusion of Huawei from the core of 5G networks, noting that UK mobile network operators have “mostly” done so already — but on a voluntary basis.

If it places a formal requirement on operators not to use Huawei for core supply the committee urges the government to provide “clear criteria” for the exclusion so that it could be applied to other suppliers in future.

Reached for a response to the recommendations, a government spokesperson told us: “The security and resilience of the UK’s telecoms networks is of paramount importance. We have robust procedures in place to manage risks to national security and are committed to the highest possible security standards.”

The spokesperson for the Department for Digital, Media, Culture and Sport added: “The Telecoms Supply Chain Review will be announced in due course. We have been clear throughout the process that all network operators will need to comply with the Government’s decision.”

In recent years the US administration has been putting pressure on allies around the world to entirely exclude Huawei from 5G networks — claiming the Chinese company poses a national security risk.

Australia announced it was banning Huawei and another Chinese vendor ZTE from providing kit for its 5G networks …

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Canal+ acquires Nollywood studio ROK from IROKOtv to grow African film

Canal+ acquires Nollywood studio ROK from IROKOtv to grow African film

July 15, 2019

French television company Canal+ has acquired the ROK film studio from VOD company IROKOtv for an undisclosed amount.

Founded by Jason Njoku in 2010—and backed by $45 million  in VC—IROKOtv boasts the largest online catalog of Nollywood film content in the world.

Nollywood is a movie genre popularized in Nigeria that has become Africa’s de facto film industry and one of the largest globally, by production volume.

Based in Lagos, ROK film studios was incubated to create original content for IROKOtv, which can be accessed online anywhere in the world.

Actress and producer Mary Njoku—IROKOtv CEO Jason Njoku’s wife—founded ROK studios and will stay on as Director General under the Canal+ acquisition.

Owned by media conglomerate Vivendi, Canal+ looks to give Mary more production resources, without disrupting ROK’s creative chemistry.

“We are acquiring the talent of Mary,” Canal+ Chief Content Officer Fabrice Faux told TechCrunch on a call.

“We will provide administrative support, finance, and equipment, but otherwise it is our intention to give Mary maximum autonomy and creative freedom,” he said.

Mrs. Njoku’s creative work so far has led ROK to produce over 540 movies and 25 original TV series, according to company data.

Through ROK, Njoku has expanded Nollywood’s formula for producing films on low budgets, largely shot on location in Nigeria, that connect with African audiences wherever they are. One of ROK’s more recent popular productions is Ojukwu, a period series set in an 1800s Nigerian village, in which Njoku directs and acts.

“Nollywood is Africa…We tell the African story. You can bring a Nigerian story, a Ghanaian story, a South African story…we talk the same drama. So Africans can connect to the average Nollywood story anywhere in the world,” Njoku told TechCrunch.

With the ROK acquisition, Canal+ looks to bring the Nollywood production ethos …

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Cambridge Uni graphene spin-out bags $16M to get its first product to market

Cambridge Uni graphene spin-out bags $16M to get its first product to market

July 15, 2019

Cambridge, UK based graphene startup, Paragraf, has closed a £12.8 million (~$16M) Series A round of funding led by early stage VC  Parkwalk. Also investing this round: IQ Capital Partners, Amadeus Capital Partners and Cambridge Enterprise, the commercialisation arm of the University of Cambridge, plus several unnamed angel investors. 

The funding will be used to bring the 2015-founded Cambridge University spin out’s first graphene-based electronics products to market — transitioning the startup into a commercial, revenue-generating phase.

When we covered Paragraf’s $3.9M seed raise just over a year ago CEO and co-founder Dr Simon Thomas told us it was looking to raise a Series A ahead of Q3 2019 so the business looks to be right on track at this stage.

During the seed phase Paragraf says it was able to deliver a manufacturing facility, graphene layer production and first device prototypes “significantly” ahead of plan.

It’s now switching focus to products — with strategic volume device production partners, and commercialisation of its first device: A super-high sensitivity magnetic field detector which it says operates over temperature, field and power ranges “that no other device can currently achieve”.

Commenting in a statement, Thomas added: “I am extremely proud of the young team at Paragraf who have collectively delivered the early strategy milestones with great skill. This next phase will allow Paragraf to make these truly game-changing technologies a reality. Paragraf is continually seeking like-minded collaborative development, production and commercial partners to accelerate the delivery of the many exciting electronics technology opportunities graphene has to offer.”

In terms of the touted benefits of graphene, the atom-layer-thick 2D material has long been exciting scientists as a potential replacement for silicon in computer chips — thanks to a raft of key properties including high conductivity, strength and flexibility and thermal

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Negative? How a Navy veteran refused to accept a ‘no’ to his battery invention

Negative? How a Navy veteran refused to accept a ‘no’ to his battery invention

July 12, 2019

Decades ago, a young naval engineer on a British nuclear submarine started taking an interest in the electric batteries helping to run his vessel. Silently running under the frozen polar ice cap during the Cold War, little did this submariner know that, in the 21st century, batteries would become one of the biggest single sectors in technology. Even the planet. But his curiosity stayed with him, and almost 20 years ago he decided to pursue that dream, born many years beneath the waves.

The journey for Trevor Jackson started, as many things do in tech, with research. He’d become fascinated by the experiments done not with lithium batteries, which had come to dominate the battery industry, but with so-called “aluminum-air” batteries.

Technically described as “(Al)/air” batteries, these are the — almost — untold story from the battery world. For starters, an aluminum-air battery system can generate enough energy and power for driving ranges and acceleration similar to gasoline-powered cars.

Sometimes known as “Metal-Air” batteries, these have been successfully used in “off-grid” applications for many years, just as batteries powering army radios. The most attractive metal in this type of battery is aluminum because it is the most common metal on Earth and has one of the highest energy densities.

Think of an air-breathing battery which uses aluminum as a “fuel.” That means it can provide vehicle power with energy originating from clean sources (hydro, geothermal, nuclear etc.). These are the power sources for most aluminum smelters all over the world. The only waste product is aluminum hydroxide and this can be returned to the smelter as the feedstock for — guess what? — making more aluminum! This cycle is therefore highly sustainable and separate from the oil industry. You could even recycle aluminum cans and use them to make batteries.…

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‘World’s first Bluetooth hair straighteners’ can be easily hacked

‘World’s first Bluetooth hair straighteners’ can be easily hacked

July 11, 2019

Here’s a thing that should have never been a thing: Bluetooth-connected hair straighteners.

Glamoriser, a U.K. firm that bills itself as the maker of the “world’s first Bluetooth hair straighteners,” allows users to link the device to an app, which lets the owner set certain heat and style settings. The app can also be used to remotely switch off the straighteners within Bluetooth range.

Big problem, though. These straighteners can be hacked.

Security researchers at Pen Test Partners bought a pair and tested them out. They found that it was easy to send malicious Bluetooth commands within range to remotely control an owner’s straighteners.

The researchers demonstrated that they could send one of several commands over Bluetooth, such as the upper and lower temperature limit of the device — 122°F and 455°F respectively — as well as the shut-down time. Because the straighteners have no authentication, an attacker can remotely alter and override the temperature of the straighteners and how long they stay on — up to a limit of 20 minutes.

“As there is no pairing or bonding established over [Bluetooth] when connecting a phone, anyone in range with the app can take control of the straighteners,” said Stuart Kennedy in his blog post, shared first with TechCrunch.

There is a caveat, said Kennedy. The straighteners only allow one concurrent connection. If the owner hasn’t connected their phone or they go out of range, only then can an attacker target the device.

Here at TechCrunch we’re all for setting things on fire “for journalism,” but in this case the numbers speak for themselves. If, per the researchers’ findings, the straighteners could be overridden to the maximum temperature of 455°F at the timeout of 20 minutes, that’s setting up a prime condition for a fire — or …

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Assistive technologies will be a $26 billion dollar market, and investors are only now addressing it

Assistive technologies will be a $26 billion dollar market, and investors are only now addressing it

June 27, 2019

Rohan Silva is obsessed with social mobility and why certain groups are so under-represented in the technology industry.

He co-founded Second Home, a coworking space looking to bring together disparate civic-minded, cultural, creative and commercial entrepreneurs at sites in Lisbon, London and (now) Los Angeles, and he has spent years examining how gender, race and class impact access to technology as a now-reformed politician. Throughout that work though, one area that he says he overlooked was accessibility and entrepreneurship focused on people with disabilities.

“At Second Home, we pride ourselves on having a diverse community. I can count on one hand the number of founders with disabilities we have in our community, so there is definitely something going profoundly wrong,” Silva says.

Enlisting the help of the European venture capital fund Atomico, Silva has set up a micro-investment fund of £100,000 to tackle the problem.

“It’s a large amount compared to what I have and a small amount compared to most venture capital funds,” he explains. “The much bigger prize here is the ability to fund technologies that have the opportunities to improve the lives of people with disabilities.”

Silva isn’t alone. Organizations like Not Impossible Labs, a Los Angeles-based company, and startups like OrCam Technologies, eSight, B-Temia, Kinova Robotics, Open Bionics, Voiceitt and Whill are harnessing technology to bring solutions to people with disabilities across the world.

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Pavegen, which harvests energy and data from footsteps, secures crowd and Hinduja Group funding

Pavegen, which harvests energy and data from footsteps, secures crowd and Hinduja Group funding

June 27, 2019

Pavegen, a UK startup which harvests energy from people’s footsteps and also tracks that data, has raised £2.6m on its crowdfunding push having doubled its initial £950k target.

The campaign secured funds from over 1,400 investors, including partnership and anchor investment from major global engineering conglomerate Hinduja Group and family investment firm Tamar Capital.

The Hinduja Group, whose Co-Chairmen topped the UK 2019 Rich List, aims to use the technology to reduce the cost of manufacturing and provide access to fast-growing markets in India and South East Asia.

The funding round follows expansion into 36 countries worldwide, and £1.8m in revenues in 2018, with installations including smart city developments, retail destinations, transport hubs and education institutions in Hong Kong, India, Korea, Thailand, UAE, UK & USA.

In 2018, Pavegen also signed a Memorandum of Understanding with global engineering and technology giant, Siemens, to develop smart city projects together.

The key to Pavegen is not just power generation. Pavegen which converts the kinetic energy of footsteps into both electricity and data, and it is also developing an ecosystem allowing people to be rewarded for steps on Pavegen walkways.

The company says its first shopping center deployment at The Mercury mall in East London has raised engagement with the site by 15%.

Laurence Kemball-Cook, CEO of Pavegen, said: “We believe in placing people at the heart of the smart city. With the support of Hinduja Group, Siemens and Tamar Capital, our plan of making our technology ubiquitous for all cities becomes achievable.”

Hrag Sarkissian, Founding Partner, Tamar Capital, said: “Pavegen is very relevant when it comes to Smart cities, from a power and a data play. As cost comes down, large scale deployments could really change the game.”

Shom Hinduja, President of Alternative Energy and Sustainability Initiatives at Hinduja Group …

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Europe should ban AI for mass surveillance and social credit scoring, says advisory group

Europe should ban AI for mass surveillance and social credit scoring, says advisory group

June 26, 2019

An independent expert group tasked with advising the European Commission to inform its regulatory response to artificial intelligence — to underpin EU lawmakers’ stated aim of ensuring AI developments are “human centric” — has published its policy and investment recommendations.

This follows earlier ethics guidelines for “trustworthy AI”, put out by the High Level Expert Group (HLEG) for AI back in April, when the Commission also called for participants to test the draft rules.

The AI HLEG’s full policy recommendations comprise a highly detailed 50-page document — which can be downloaded from this web page. The group, which was set up in June 2018, is made up of a mix of industry AI experts, civic society representatives, political advisers and policy wonks, academics and legal experts.

The document includes warnings on the use of AI for mass surveillance and scoring of EU citizens, such as China’s social credit system, with the group calling for an outright ban on “AI-enabled mass scale scoring of individuals”. It also urges governments to commit to not engage in blanket surveillance of populations for national security purposes. (So perhaps it’s just as well the UK has voted to leave the EU, given the swingeing state surveillance powers it passed into law at the end of 2016.) 

“While there may be a strong temptation for governments to ‘secure society’ by building a pervasive surveillance system based on AI systems, this would be extremely dangerous if pushed to extreme levels,” the HLEG writes. “Governments should commit not to engage in mass surveillance of individuals and to deploy and procure only Trustworthy AI systems, designed to be respectful of the law and fundamental rights, aligned with ethical principles and socio-technically robust.”

The group also calls for commercial surveillance of individuals and societies to be …

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