Friday Five: UK set for contact tracing app

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

1. UK getting set to roll out contact tracing app

The UK’s contact tracing app should be ready in two to three weeks, according to theNHS’s digital innovation unit. Contact tracing aims to identify and alert people who have been in contact with a coronavirus sufferer so they can self-isolate. It will be done by phone calls to friends and family and complemented by the app, which will use Bluetooth to track when its users come into contact with each other.

Contact tracing is being used in many other countries, such as Australia, and has been credited for keeping South Korea’s death toll to a minimum. Phone tracing is very labour intensive so the mobile app will help immensely. However, take up will need to be huge for it to suppress the virus — academics say 80% of smartphone users would have to actively use it (67% have WhatsApp, for reference).

2. Shopify launches app to aid local businesses

With many people keen to support their neighbourhood shops now more than ever, Shopify has launched an app that helps people find and shop from local businesses. The app allows users in the US to browse and purchase products from any of the 1 million merchants that use Shopify’s e-commerce logistics platform.

Significantly, brands do not have to pay any additional fee to be on the Shop app, nor do they have to pay commission for any sales made through it. And unlike on Amazon or Google, there’s also no way to buy higher placement in the app’s rankings. The app had been planned for later in the year but was brought forward to help businesses suffering due to the pandemic.

3. Gallery robot helping people get culture fix

A UK gallery is using a remote controlled robot to let people explore its space and view the art on display from their homes. It’s a collaboration between Hastings Contemporary and Bristol Robotics Laboratory, and allows the viewer to control the robot from their computer while a guide takes them round.

Longer-term, it is hoped that the robot could help people who wouldn’t normally be able to visit the gallery, for reasons such as disabilities or even simply geography. Just be careful not to knock over any priceless artefacts with a speeding robot, OK?

4. UK sets coal-free electricity record (sort of)

It’s the sort of record that will always have an asterisk next to it, but we have take our reasons to be cheerful where we can find them — the UK has just set a new coal-free electricity record. According to the National Grid, it’s been 18-and-a-half days since it has had to turn on the back-up coal burners.

This is due to sunny weather, more efficient devices and, of course, the almost total shutdown of all the country’s schools and offices. Nonetheless, it’s still one of the few upsides of the pandemic, with the collapse in demand for fossil fuels meaning global carbon emissions are set to fall by 8% in 2020.

5. Burger King makes lockdown birthday vow

A lot of kids look forward to their birthday literally all year long — the party, the presents, the fuss about them. So having a birthday during lockdown, with just immediate family and limited presents, is a massive downer (my daughter has never been so pleased she was born in January).

Recognising this, Burger King France has released a new spot, Unhappy Birthday, showing children’s forlorn reactions to marking the occasion under lockdown. Fortunately, to lift the mood, BK is promising to help 500 children celebrate their birthdays properly — by throwing them all a party once life is back to normal.

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