Friday Five: Glitch causes people to isolate for too long

Zone’s Martha Green handpicks and shares the five best new stories on digital trends, experiences and technologies…

1. Glitch causes many to self-isolate for too long

A software error has caused more than 7,200 people to be told to stop self-isolating on the wrong date by the Test and Trace scheme. Those affected were told to isolate for too long, which I guess is better than being told to mix with others too soon. The Department of Health said most of those affected had subsequently been contacted.

It’s not the first software-based Covid-19 mishap, following last month’s scandal which resulted in nearly 16,000 cases going unreported in England. And it’s also been reported that a risk-score threshold used by the NHS Covid-19 app to trigger self-isolate alerts had been lowered weeks later than intended.

2. Cough into your phone for a Covid diagnosis

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed a method to identify Covid-19 by sound. MIT reports the difference between a healthy cough and a Covid cough is inaudible to the human ear, but AI tech is able to tell and, with a high degree of accuracy, determine if the person has the virus.

The research involved analysing 70,000 audio samples of coughs, 2,500 of which had Covid-19. The team then created an algorithm which had a 98.5% success rate, even if the user had no symptoms. As well as coughing into our phones, we could also be diagnosed by sniffer dogs. I’ll take that over a swab, thanks very much.

3. Drones could beam 5G signals from the air

Two UK firms have announced plans to beam 5G signals to the public via drones. Staying airborne for nine days at a time, each drone would be able to cover 87 miles, meaning only 60 would be needed to cover all of the UK. Users would get download speeds of 100Mbps, meaning they could download a movie in under six minutes.

The Cambridge-based firms, Stratospheric Platforms and Cambridge Consultants, are backed by Deutsche Telekom, which plans to trial the tech in Germany in 2024. By then, however, UK mobile operators are predicted to have built much of their 5G networks. But the drones could be a good solution for hard-to-reach areas.

4. Twitter takes action against Trump’s tirade

In the chaotic aftermath to the US election, Twitter took action against a series of increasingly angry tweets from Donald Trump, slapping warnings on them and adding misinformation labels as Trump raised baseless claims about voter fraud and attempted to ‘claim’ wins in states where the vote was still being counted.

Twitter had changed its policy in September, saying it would remove or label any tweets that incite unlawful activity and threaten a “peaceful transfer of power or orderly succession”. As well as being hidden by warnings, restricted tweets also have their retweets, likes and comments disabled, reducing their reach.

5. A romantic stroll with a robotic, sweaty hand?

A university in Japan has invented the first robotic hand made specifically to simulate your other half on a romantic stroll. But it’s not just a hand (cos that would be weird?) — the team behind it have detailed an elaborate set-up that goes all-in when it comes to simulating the experience of holding someone’s hand during a walk.

The hand is made from soft, pliable material that replicates human flesh and has animated fingers that can detect pressure and squeeze back when gripped tightly. If that wasn’t enough (it definitely is), it’s also designed with a series of pores from which the hand can artificially sweat. It’s a subtle sweat, so that’s fine then.

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