Friday Five: Microsoft vows to upskill Covid-19 generation

4 min readJul 3, 2020

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

1. Microsoft vows to upskill 25 million people

Microsoft has pledged to help 25 million people across the world acquire new digital skills for the ‘Covid-19 economy’. These initiatives, which should be in place by the end of 2020, include cash grants, providing access to data, affordable certifications for Microsoft products and a new learning app that will be part of its Teams app.

Microsoft has also launched a portal that provides insights into skills and gaps in the employment market — the most in-demand jobs, desirable skills and which companies are hiring for those roles. The portal builds on the LinkedIn Economic Graph, which uses data to provide a digital representation of the global economy.

2. Waste sewage heat to power greenhouses

In a world-first green energy initiative, waste heat generated from water treatment plants will be harnessed and used to keep commercial greenhouses warm in the UK. Heat will be extracted from the treated water and then pumped via an enclosed loop system to the greenhouse.

Conventional commercial greenhouses sometimes use fossil fuels as a source of heat so this method will also help to reduce carbon emissions. The first two greenhouses to use this waste heat are currently being constructed in East Anglia and are due to be completed later this year. Watch this video to find out more.

3. Grocery robots producing the goods in US

Refraction AI has begun using its semi-autonomous robots to deliver groceries in Michigan. The startup, which launched in July 2019, had previously been delivering lunches from a group of restaurants in the Ann Arbor area as part of a three-month trial, with demand increasing dramatically due to Covid-19.

Now customers within a three-mile radius of the Produce Station can have their orders delivered by a robot, which travel at 10–15 mph (with a very short stopping distance). The robots are disinfected between each delivery and are controlled by employees from home, so are ideal in the current climate.

4. Get ready for e-scooter riders on the roads

The Department for Transport is fast-tracking and expanding the UK’s trials of e-scooter services, with the two-wheelers expected to start appearing on our streets as early as next week. With coronavirus lockdown measures being eased, it’s hoped the scheme can reduce the demand on public transport.

There will be restrictions: privately owned e-scooters will remain illegal, while riders will have to be over 16 and own a full or provisional car or motorbike licence. They aren’t allowed on the pavement and can only do 15mph, so it will be interesting to see how car drivers react to having a swathe of e-scooters on the roads…

5. Facebook’s VR headset is a shade different

Facebook has created a VR headset design that is far removed from the bulky contraptions we’ve come to expect — it looks like a pair of large sunglasses (albeit ones you wouldn’t want to wear on the beach). Facebook claims these proof-of-concept glasses have a field of view “comparable to today’s consumer VR products”.

The glasses apparently beam images to your eyes in a different way too — they use “holographic optics” to allow a dramatic reduction in thickness and weight. While Facebook’s headset is just research at this stage, it could offer a glimpse at what combination AR/VR glasses could look like in the future.




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