The latest news and insight on how the technology sector is reacting to Covid-19.
Government launches £250m fund for startups
Today the UK government announced a fund of £250m of taxpayer money for startups struggling due to the coronavirus lockdown with the private sector expected to match the investment. The ‘Future Fund’, delivered in partnership with British Business Bank, will offer startups between £125,000 and £5m, however each investment needs to matched, at least, by private backers.
To be eligible the company must have raised £250,000 privately in the last five years. If the money is not repaid, the government will take an ownership stake in the company. The scheme will initially be open until the end of September.
The second part of the package announced is £750m in grants and loans for smaller businesses focused on research and development.
Read more details on the fund here.
UK population movement down by 98%, reveals monitor tool
Population movement across the country has dropped by 98% since the beginning of March, a new online tool designed to monitor the impact of coronavirus on the UK has revealed. It uses data from mobile phones to understand and predict the impact of the social distancing measures on population movements across the UK amid the prevailing outbreak of coronavirus.
The Covid-19 Impact Monitor tool has been developed by a team of artificial intelligence (AI) and big data researchers at the University of Oxford. To address privacy concerns, the tool is said to use only anonymised and aggregated mobile phone location data.
Europe publishes contact-tracing app guidelines
The European Commission has released a contact-tracing application toolbox to help member states develop apps to trace the path of Covid-19, without infringing on the rights of citizens. It should be voluntary, approved by the state’s health authority and in line with personal data privacy laws. Collected anonymised and aggregated data could allow local authorities to follow infection patterns and make critical containment decisions.
Commissioner for Internal Market Thierry Breton said, “Contact-tracing apps to limit the spread of coronavirus can be useful, especially as part of member states’ exit strategies. However, strong privacy safeguards are a pre-requisite for the uptake of these apps, and therefore their usefulness. While we should be innovative and make the best use of technology in fighting the pandemic, we will not compromise on our values and privacy requirements.” It is required that once the application is no longer needed, it should be dismantled. Norway and Iceland are the latest countries to launch tracking apps
Pony.ai launches autonomous goods delivery in California
Chinese self-driving technology company Pony.ai said it was set to launch an autonomous goods delivery service to residents in the Californian city of Irvine to help meet demand for online orders due to the Covid-19 lockdown.
Pony.ai said it plans to use autonomous electric vehicles to deliver goods to customers in Irvine, a city south of Los Angeles with around 200,000 inhabitants, from local e-commerce platform Yamibuy.
Pony.ai has so far focused on autonomous passenger transportation services and this will be its first entry into goods transportation. Last year it unveiled an autonomous ride hailing service in Irvine called BotRide, but this has been suspended due to the virus outbreak.
Social distancing tech used in US factory
A group of workers at a Ford manufacturing plant in the US are experimenting with wearable social-distancing devices that could be deployed more widely. Bloomberg reported that 12 volunteers at Ford's factory in Plymouth, Michigan, are trying out wristbands that vibrate when employees come within six feet of each other.
The aim is to keep workers from breaching the distance that health experts recommend to avoid spreading the coronavirus. The social-distancing wearable could be part of a broader array of new safety protocols Ford deploys as it resumes production as early as next month after at least a six-week shutdown.