Friday Five: Tech talk at No10 and robots for sale

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

1. What does Boris Johnson mean for tech?

The new prime minister is still settling into No10, but what does Boris Johnson’s appointment mean for the UK tech industry? Johnson has promised full fibre broadband in every home, suggesting it could happen by 2025 — eight years earlier then previously predicted — although there is a familiar lack of detail in his pledge.

Other tech issues in the PM’s in-tray include deciding whether to involve Huawei in the UK’s 5G network, the controversial and delayed online porn block and whether, as he has suggested, to introduce a digital tax on tech giants (as France did in January). And that’s without even mentioning the tech issues of Brexit

2. Spot the next big thing on the robotics market

The Friday Five has talked about the incredible robots developed by Boston Dynamics before, and every time the company releases a new video it causes an online sensation. But now the robotics company faces its biggest challenge yet — turning its machines into an actual business.

With its first commercial bot set to be released this year after almost 20 years as an R&D company (funded first by the US government and then Google), this long readasks whether we are ready for machines to walk among us. Boston Dynamics’ CEO, Marc Raibert, says that Spot the quadrupedal will become the “Android of robotics”. Does that mean we’ll all have one in a few years’ time?

3. Haptic vests give paws for thought

Dogs are very smart animals, and haptic technology (transmitting information through the sense of touch) is very smart too. Put them together, as researchers at an Israeli university have done, and you’ve got yourself a haptic vest for dogs that can provide instructions through specific vibrations.

This means that it could be possible to communicate over long distances with a dog by the click of a mouse, which could be perfect for search-and-rescue dogs working in noisy areas. Or, potentially, for lazy owners who can’t be bothered to get up and call their pooch in from the garden.

4. Facebook using AI to map the world

Facebook has released AI-powered tools to help the community-based OpenStreetMap organisation create crowd-sourced maps. The main tool, RapidID, works by taking satellite images, then using AI to predict the presence of roads in a given image, which can then be edited by a volunteer.

The tools were tried out on 300,000 miles’ worth of unmapped roads in Thailand, and can spot unpaved roads and even footpaths. With many rural areas difficult to map, Facebook says the tools could be invaluable for things such as economic planning and disaster management response.

5. Mix up your music with a cassette comeback

Forget the vinyl revival — 2019 is all about the cassette comeback, with UK sales at their highest for over a decade. OK, so cassettes are only expected to sell 75,000 copies by the end of 2019 (0.2% of album sales, compared with 12% for vinyl), but that’s still a 50% increase on last year.

Of course, finding something to actually play cassettes on is a bit of a problem, but you could back the world’s first Bluetooth cassette player on Kickstarter. Then it’ll just be a case of settling down on a Sunday evening to record the charts — and think about making a mixtape for that someone special in your life…

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