Driverless cars are set to make the roads safer for pedestrians and car drivers alike

  • by Business & Innovation Magazine Reporter
  • 25 Oct, 2017
Driverless cars are set to make the roads safer for pedestrians and car drivers alike, with companies like Oxford based Oxbotica developing fully autonomous operating systems that diagnose vehicle issues and identify the best, most logical route on the move.

Industry-led review details plans to supercharge UK Artificial Intelligence (AI) industry A new independent review sets out ambitious proposals for how industry and government can boost the UK’s burgeoning AI industry.

The government has been urged to help the UK become the clear world leader in the development of Artificial Intelligence (AI) – to boost productivity, advance health care, improve services for customers and unlock £630 billion for the UK economy.

Experts from industry and academia unveiled new proposals for how government can work with industry to stay ahead of the competition and grow the UK’s use of AI right across the economy – from smarter scheduling of operations in health care, to hiring on-demand self-driving cars. The Industrial Strategy green paper, published in January, identified AI as a major, high-potential opportunity for the UK to build a word-leading future sector of our economy.

The independent review, ‘Growing the Artificial Intelligence Industry in the UK’, was announced as part of the Digital Strategy in March, and led by Dame Wendy Hall, Professor of Computer Science at the University of Southampton, and Jérôme Pesenti, Chief Executive of BenevolentTech. The reviewers were asked to report on how this pioneering technology can best thrive and grow in the UK and will inform BEIS and DCMS policy making relevant to this exciting new sector.

Culture Secretary Karen Bradley said: I want the UK to lead the way in Artificial Intelligence. It has the potential to improve our everyday lives - from healthcare to robots that perform dangerous tasks. We already have some of the best minds in the world working on Artificial Intelligence, and the challenge now is to build a strong partnership with industry and academia to cement our position as the best place in the world to start and grow a digital business.

Business Secretary Greg Clark said: Artificial intelligence presents us with a unique opportunity to build on our strengths and track record of research excellence by leading the development and deployment of this transformational technology. This important review exemplifies the world-class expertise the UK already has in AI, demonstrating the huge social and economic benefits its use can bring.

We will continue to work with the sector in the coming months to secure a comprehensive Sector Deal that make the UK the go to place for AI and helps us grasp the opportunities that lie ahead. Many sectors across the UK economy are already embracing innovation through AI and benefitting from its use in how they do their business day-to-day including:

  • Health - using the most advanced Artificial Intelligence, Your.MD has built the world’s first AI personal health guide that provides users immediate trustworthy healthcare advice from the NHS to anyone with access to a mobile phone.
  • Banking - to help verify customer identity and increase security for HSBC customers, the bank has created an AI chatbot, Olivia, who can assist customers 24 hours a day, 365 days a year with their enquiries.
  • Education - with technology that records patterns of behaviour, including what learning style works for each student, CENTURY, an AI platform, is helping children learn and teachers provide more personalised education programmes, with feedback and suggestions to help fill knowledge gaps.
  • Legal services - AI is helping lawyers to do legal searches and to draft the best standard documents, the law firm Pinsent Masons has developed its own team of computer scientists and legal engineers to put AI into practical context for its lawyers.
  • Cars - driverless cars are set to make the roads safer for pedestrians and car drivers alike, with companies like Oxford based Oxbotica developing fully autonomous operating systems that diagnose vehicle issues and identify the best, most logical route on the move.

AI is also being deployed in a variety of different ways to assist businesses and consumers such as:

  • Protecting consumers and shoppers against spam and bank fraud
  • Computer vision that monitors CCTV to improve safety
  • Managing and monitoring supply chains to reduce loss and waste
  • Improving electricity grid management to save costs and reduce CO2 emissions
  • Using data to provide personal shopping recommendations

Professor Dame Wendy Hall, Regius Professor of Computer Science at the University of Southampton said: I was very honoured to be asked to co-chair this review at a time when AI is set to make major changes to the way we live and work. I’m particularly keen to ensure that we use it to inform the establishment of initiatives and programmes to help us extract the most value from artificial intelligence for the country; that includes an emphasis on increasing and improving our skill levels to prepare the workforce for the number of jobs the industry will need for the future.
AI has been around for a very long time as a concept and this latest surge of technological development is likely to see automation continue to escalate and accelerate in every walk of life. Now is the time for us all - scientists, researchers, entrepreneurs and the government - to come together and address the issues about how AI is going to impact society and seek ways to ensure that we’re able to deliver the great breakthroughs the technology has the potential to deliver.

Jérôme Pesenti, CEO of BenevolentTech, the technology division of BenevolentAI said: In our AI review, we focused on recommendations that are both practicable and deliverable. By following these recommendations, government, academia and industry can help strengthen the UK’s position in the global AI market. Our proposals are deliberately specific and boil down to three fundamentals – enable better access to data, create a greater supply of AI skills and promote the uptake of AI. I am looking forward to working with government, academia and industry to drive these changes.

The report makes 18 recommendations for how to make the UK the best place in the world for businesses developing AI to start, grow, and thrive including:

  • Skills - increasing the UK’s AI expertise through new initiatives including an industry-funded Masters programme, and conversion courses to bring a broader range of people into the field
  • Increasing uptake - helping organisations and workers understand how AI can boost their productivity and make better products and services, including public services
  • Data - ensuring that people and organisations can be confident that use of data for AI is safe, secure and fair by making more data available, including from publicly-funded research
  • Research - building on the UK’s strong record in cutting-edge AI research, including making the Alan Turing Institute a national institute for AI
  • These recommendations will now be carefully considered in discussions towards a potential Industrial Strategy sector deal between government and the AI industry.

As part of the Industrial Strategy, the government has increased investment in research and development over the next 4 years by £4.7 billion to create jobs and raise living standards, including through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund. The Business Secretary announced in April that the first £1 billion of investment is being made in 6 key areas in 2017 to 2018, driving progress and innovation that will create opportunities for businesses and sectors across the UK.

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by Business & Innovation Magazine Reporter 15 Jan, 2018
With the introduction of the Government’s Industrial Strategy, the West of England Combined Authority (WECA) are now mapping out how they will meet these ambitious plans.

The five pillars of the industrial strategy being identified as:

  • Ideas: the world’s most innovative economy
  • People: good jobs and greater earning power for all
  • Infrastructure : a major upgrade to the UK’s infrastructure
  • Business environment: the best place to start and grow a business
  • Places: prosperous communities across the UK

One prominent and serious issue in the region’s educational landscape, and which will compromise hitting these targets, is a lack of the staff to deliver the training to the future generation, be that in the classroom or in Apprenticeships.

The bottom line is that without teachers and trainers in place, there can be no more training of new industry recruits to the standards businesses are looking for.

To begin addressing this issue, a consortium of colleges, comprising SGS, City of Bristol and City of Bath Colleges, in partnership with the Western Training Provider Network (WTPN) and Business West, are working collaboratively to deliver a joint recruitment event to encourage new entrants into the world of training and skills development.

The event is being held on Friday 9th February from 1.30pm at the SGS WISE Campus in Stoke Gifford, Bristol. The event aims to attract a cross section of attendees including those who are retired or coming to retirement age and who want to share their vast knowledge, skilled employees who are interested in flexible employment options to supplement their existing salaries, women looking to return to the workplace, those looking to move from industry into the classroom and anyone at the start of their career path.

SGS College, like many educational institutions in the region, is currently facing major issues recruiting qualified, industry experienced staff in several key sectors including, but not exclusively, Construction, Engineering, Digital and High Tech. Currently the College has over 90 hard to fill vacancies. This is a situation mirrored across the sector within the West of England and in the main is due to the buoyancy of the economy and skilled trainers being able to earn far more in industry than within the skills delivery sector.

One person who is aware of the impact skills shortages are having on the region’s businesses and how those with vast knowledge and experience can make a difference is Ian Mean, Director of Business West, who commented: “Skills and upskilling our workforce in the region is perhaps the greatest challenge for business.

“So, we need to recruit great teachers and trainers for the digital age. A lot of retired people or those nearing retirement with specialist skills could really make a difference to help our young people into the world of work and this event provides an ideal platform to find out more”.

Whilst Sara-Jane Watkins, Principal SGS College comments ‘The inability to recruit and retain high calibre teaching staff is a significant concern to the Colleges within the West of England, and to other Training Providers locally, as without the ability to recruit high-calibre teaching staff with the relevant industry expertise, the Colleges are unable to deliver the West of England's vision for a skilled and qualified workforce - let alone support the Government's delivery of their recently unveiled Industrial Strategy’.

The joint recruitment event will include a key note address on the buoyancy of the economy, the immense opportunities and benefits available within the training sector and the range of flexible posts, both full and part-time.

Full training, development and support will also be provided to those who wish to pursue a career in the areas listed with options to sign up being available on the day.

To register to attend this free event visit: www.sgsrecruitmentevent.eventbrite.co.uk
by Business & Innovation Magazine Reporter 15 Jan, 2018

Vaccitech, an Oxford University spinout company developing a universal flu vaccine, among other vaccine-related products, has secured £20m ($27.1m) in Series A financing.

 

The round was co-led by new investors GV, Sequoia China, and existing backer Oxford Sciences Innovation, which manages a £600m fund aimed at Oxford University spinouts. Neptune Ventures joined in participation. In total, Vaccitech has now raised £30m since inception in 2016.

Vaccitech is currently a clinical stage company, with six total products that are based on inducing cellular immune responses using non-replicating viral vectors for treatment or prophylaxis against diseases at various stages. The CD8+ T-cell responses induced by the proprietary platform are among the highest reported in any human trials.

 

The portfolio of the company includes:

·       A universal influenza vaccine in evaluation in a Phase 2b efficacy trial, in which 862 people are enrolled in the first year of a two-year study. At present, there are currently between three to five million new cases of influenza each year, resulting in 250,000 to 500,000 deaths per annum, mostly in the elderly population. Vaccitech’s universal vaccine recognises the conserved proteins of the virus and is active against all influenza A strains, including avian ones.

·       Vaccitech’s prostate cancer therapeutic is current at Phase I, and has shown high level immune T cell responses to the self-antigen 5T4, indicating strong potential applicability of the vaccine platform to cancer in general. A Phase 2 study combining the vaccine platform with a checkpoint inhibitor will begin in metastatic prostate disease in early 2018.

·       A Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) prophylactic is currently beginning Phase 1 studies at Oxford University.

·       A Human Papillomavirus (HPV) therapeutic, a Hepatitis B (HBV) therapeutic, and another infectious disease asset are in late preclinical development

The company, spun out by Oxford University Innovation in 2016, is commercialising the research of vaccine development specialists Adrian Hill and Sarah Gilbert, who developed the underpinning technology at Oxford University’s Jenner Institute. The work of Hill and Gilbert attracted Thomas Evans as its CEO, who relocated from the US to the UK for the role. Evans is a vaccine veteran bringing with him over a 15 years’ experience at Vical, as Global Head of Infectious Diseases Research at Novartis, and as CSO and CEO at the tuberculosis vaccine-focused biotech Aeras. Vaccitech has also added vaccine veteran Pierre Morgon to its Board of Directors.

 

Currently based at the Oxford Science Park, Vaccitech will use the funding to expand its business, develop its lab structure, and to push its influenza and prostate cancer programmes through Phase II by the end of 2019, and move three other programs into the clinic.

 

Tom Evans, Chief Executive Officer at Vaccitech, said:

 

“When you look at the 250 million people chronically infected with hepatitis B globally, or the number of people killed by the flu each year, it becomes clear just how much potential impact Vaccitech’s portfolio of vaccine products could have on the world. You add Oxford into the mix, where you have unprecedented ability to do advance products through outstanding vaccine science and tremendous translational medicine capability, and Vaccitech is clearly well positioned to have an important impact on global health.”

 

Tom Hulme, General Partner at GV, added:

“Vaccitech's world class team have achieved an incredible amount with relatively little funding to date - the T-cell responses to the company's viral vector platform are among the highest that have been achieved in man - we look forward to it being applied to tackle multiple human diseases.”

 

by Business & Innovation Magazine Reporter 15 Jan, 2018


Farming and the environment must go hand-in-hand and producing quality, home-grown food is critical to the future of the country, the NFU says

It follows publication  of the Government’s 25 year Environment Plan. Theresa May revealed details of the long-awaited and wide-ranging 150-page  strategy  during a keynote speech in south-west London. 

Farmers manage 70% of the nation’s iconic countryside and take their environmental responsibilities seriously. 10,000 football pitches worth of flower habitat, creating homes for wildlife, have been planted while more than 30,000km of hedgerows have been planted or restored by farmers.

The NFU says farming is in a unique position to deliver for the environment as long as there are productive and viable businesses – where food is at the heart.

NFU Vice President Guy Smith said: “Over the past four decades, farmers have carried out a huge amount of work to encourage wildlife, as well as benefitting the landscape, soil and water and reducing their impact on the climate.   

“Farming also offers innovative solutions to wider environmental challenges. For instance the Government’s current concern with plastics highlighted by the BBC’s brilliant Blue Planet series could be met with substituting synthetic plastics with farm produced biodegradable starch-based packaging.

“But there must be a coherent approach. British farming has a unique role in producing a safe, affordable and high quality supply of food as well as protecting, maintaining and enhancing 70% of the nation's iconic countryside.

“That only remains feasible, however, as long as farmers run sustainable and viable businesses. We provide the raw materials for a domestic food industry that employs 3.8m people and which, as the UK’s largest manufacturing sector, generates £112bn in value for the UK economy. This is why we welcomed the Secretary of State’s commitment last week to create a national food policy and his recognition that food is at the heart of viable farming businesses.

“It’s vital therefore that a holistic approach is taken and the environment plan must go hand-in-hand with a future food policy, where measures for protecting and enhancing the environment are joined up with policies to improve productivity and manage volatility to ensure that we have profitable, productive and progressive farm businesses post-Brexit.”v

by Business & Innovation Magazine Reporter 11 Jan, 2018

The sale of Worcestershire-based Countrywide Farmers, the farming and equestrian retailer, to Mole Valley Farmers Ltd, which was expected to have been completed by the end of January, has been delayed. The sale is subject to review by the Competition and Markets Authority. A new completion date of March 16th has been set.

In the meantime, the company has sold off its Countrywide LPG business to Dublin-based DCC, an international sales, marketing and support services group. It operates in four divisions: LPG, Retail & Oil, Healthcare and Technology.

 

In a statement Countrywide said this is being progressed to ensure the business maintains sustainable value within its current going concern status.

 

DCC plc will acquire the trade and assets of the LPG business for £28.75 million, with completion targeted before the end of March 2018.

 

Countrywide LPG supplies bulk and cylinder LPG to domestic, agricultural and commercial customers in Britain. The business sells approximately 20,000 tonnes of LPG annually.

 

Countrywide Chief Executive Julie Wirth said: “We are delighted to have reached an agreement with DCC plc to acquire our LPG business. This represents an excellent opportunity for the Countrywide LPG brand to continue to grow and flourish within a leading international sales, marketing and support services group which has a strong LPG division currently operating in nine countries across Europe.”

Share trading of Countrywide remains suspended in light of the ongoing strategic developments taking place within the business.

Countrywide operates around 53 stores and runs a fully operational website. It has over 700 members of staff. The business launched in 1902 when Beckford Farmers merged with Winchcombe, Toddington & Cotswold Farmers Association to form West Midland Farmers Association Limited.

 

 

 

by Business & Innovation Magazine Reporter 09 Jan, 2018

Oxford-based games developer and publisher Rebellion has bought Warwick-based Radiant Worlds, the development studio founded in 2013 by industry veterans Andrew Oliver, Philip Oliver and Richard Smithies, for an undisclosed sum.

Radiant Worlds' 70 employees have decades of experience across hundreds of titles, adding their industry expertise and creative excellence to Rebellion’s award-winning development teams.

Radiant Worlds will become Rebellion Warwick, joining Rebellion Liverpool as a sister studio to the company’s headquarters in Oxford. Rebellion Warwick will immediately transition on to current projects – including the 1930s co-op adventure Strange Brigade revealed last year - and in the future will contribute to projects based on Rebellion’s beloved IP such as Sniper Elite, Evil Genius, Battlezone and more. Founders Philip and Andrew Oliver will remain at Rebellion Warwick.

The acquisition completes a landmark 12 months for Rebellion which recently celebrated its 25th birthday. In 2017 the company successfully self-published Sniper Elite 4, announced its next major new IP in Strange Brigade, and released a remaster of the BAFTA-nominated classic Rogue Trooper. Its stewardship of cutting edge comic 2000 AD (also celebrating its 40th birthday) saw renewed focus, opening up the 2000 AD universe to external game developers and announcing Mega-City One – an ambitious TV series set in world of Judge Dredd.

Now employing over 300 staff, Rebellion says this acquisition cements its reputation as one of the UK’s most exciting multi-media companies.

“To bring such great people to the company, just after our 25th birthday, is quite remarkable,” said Rebellion CEO and co-founder Jason Kingsley OBE. “It’s been a great year for us and we have a lot of plans to help make 2018, 2019 and beyond bigger and even greater years for Rebellion.”

Philip Oliver, one of the founders of Radiant Worlds, said: “We’ve known the Kingsleys for many years and have always had enormous respect for them and the company they’ve built. We know that our core values of creativity, passion, and ambition are mirrored by Rebellion, and we’re excited to be part of their amazing team.”

Richard Smithies, Radiant Worlds’ outgoing Chairman and Chief Operating Officer, is also delighted at the next chapter for the developer: “We’ve managed to build one of the financially strongest and most talented development studios in the UK. I wish everyone now working with Rebellion every success for the future.”

by Business & Innovation Magazine Reporter 05 Jan, 2018

Aston Martin sold 5,117 sports cars last year amid sell-out demand for its DB11 model and special vehicles including the Vanquish Zagato and Aston Martin Vantage GT8.

Retail sales, which saw a 58% year-on-year increase, outpaced wholesale supply (up 38%) and the Group now expects to exceed its previous full-year guidance of adjusted EBITDA of at least £180 million on revenues of more than £840 million.  

Dr Andy Palmer, Aston Martin President and Chief Executive Officer, said: “We continue to perform ahead of expectations, in  financial performance and in meeting our targets for the DB11 and special vehicles. This strong sales performance shows that our Second Century transformation plan is building momentum. Phase Two of the programme will be largely completed in 2018 with the introduction of the Vanquish replacement and production of the new Vantage, contributing to continued sustainable profitability at Aston Martin.”

In 2017, Warwickshire-headquartered Aston Martin achieved its highest full-year sales volumes in nine years, driven by rising demand in North America, the UK and China. This sales performance comes amidst continued strong orders for the DB11, the Vanquish S and for special models that more than doubled year on year to 250 vehicles.

As part of the Second Century Plan, Aston Martin is expanding its UK manufacturing footprint. The company has resumed output of special vehicles, notably the DB4GT Continuation, at its Newport Pagnell facility for the first time since 2007. And construction work is continuing at the new St Athan facility in Wales, due for completion in 2019, ahead of production of the new DBX SUV.

Aston Martin will report 2017 full-year earnings in March 2018.

by Business & Innovation Magazine Reporter 05 Jan, 2018
  • Four businesses have secured funding from the Midlands Engine Investment Fund
  • Leicester’s BCME and Dudley’s Direct Digital Controls among the first to receive funding
  • £120 million debt finance and small business loan funds as part of more than £250 million total commitment to support the growth of region’s SMEs

The Midlands Engine Investment Fund (MEIF), supported by the European Regional Development Fund, is officially open for business, with the first loans being awarded to growing businesses across the Midlands. The MEIF is delivered by the British Business Bank and the Fund is investing £120 million of debt finance and small business loans to eligible firms. This initial tranche of funding is part of a wider £250 million of resource targeted towards the region’s start-ups, scale-ups and SME community.

Loans have been made across the Midlands with four companies benefitting from finance to date to support their growth aspirations:

Leicester-based BCME, owner of specialist education provider Echo Factory has received finance from MEIF, which will be deployed to market its degree-level music courses, maximising student numbers and empowering the institution to become self-sustaining.

Direct Digital Controls, in Brierley Hill, West Midlands is a business that specialises in the installation and maintenance of energy and environmental control systems. With the MEIF investment, the firm is poised to take on four new employees, train an additional apprentice and expand its growing wired and lighting controls divisions.

Nottingham-based medical devices company Olberon, has produced a cannulation device that is used in the medical industry. The funding will have a significant impact on commercial sales globally, by allowing them to develop existing links with distributors, and by helping them market more effectively.

Milton Keynes’ Renewable ON Ltd, a clean energy specialist supplies and installs quality bespoke solar powered LED outdoor and street lighting solutions to both public and private sector. Primarily the loan funds are required for cash flow including stock, wages and marketing to fulfil initial orders.

Nick Pulley, Chair of the Midlands Engine Investment Fund’s Strategic Oversight Board, said:

“It is heartening to see the first businesses tap into the opportunities presented by the Midlands Engine Investment Fund and having built a strong pipeline of deals, the fund is well set to accelerate this progress. SMEs that are in the market for external finance and have growth aspirations should check the website and seek out fund managers to find out how the MEIF could take their business to the next level.”

Patrick Magee, Chief Commercial Officer at the British Business Bank, commented:

“Our aim is to make finance markets work better for smaller businesses and address regional inequalities in funding. Through our work with the MEIF, we’re poised to support investment, growth and job creation throughout the Midlands.”

Bob Taylor, Director at Direct Digital Controls, said:

“Securing finance from MEIF is a pivotal step in the future of our business growth, giving us the backing we need to expand and reach out to new customers UK-wide. Meaningful expansion requires extra talent and an investment in new business, we’re now ready to take the next step.”

The MEIF will invest in debt finance and small business loans, ranging from £25,000 to £1.5m, through appointed Fund Managers – Enterprise Loans East Midlands, BCRS Business Loans and Maven Capital Partners. For more information on the funding available, please visit www.meif.co.uk

The Midlands Engine Investment Fund project is supported financially by the European Union using funding from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020 and the European Investment Bank.

by Business & Innovation Magazine Reporter 05 Jan, 2018

 Apprentice George Russell’s name will be in lights for years to come having become the first ever electrician to pass the new electrotechnical trailblazer apprenticeship standard.

Twenty-two-year-old George said he was nervous before the gruelling three-day practical assessment, especially when he realised that his assessor was also being assessed as it was the first time anyone had sat the new style end-point assessment.

But a committed period of revision and support from the team at Clarkson Evans Training, meant George was fully prepared for the assessment, passing with flying colours, and first time to boot!

The new electrotechnical apprenticeship standard was introduced in response to the Richard Review of Apprenticeships, which recommended improvements should be made to the assessment of all apprenticeships to make them more robust and to better meet the needs of industry.

Simon Kingwell, Production Director at Clarkson Evans said: “We are delighted that one of our apprentices is the first to qualify as an electrician under the new electrotechnical apprenticeship standard.

“George is a hardworking member of staff who, since qualifying, has already been trusted to mentor an apprentice and lead his own team. We’re confident he’ll have a bright future in the electrical industry,” added Mr Kingwell.

George said: “I’m not a very confident person and so I’m pleased that I didn’t let my nerves get the better of me during the assessment, especially as there were so many people in the room watching what I was doing. I’m thrilled to have qualified and I’m looking forward to further developing my skills at Clarkson Evans.”  

Carolyn Mason, Chief Executive of National Electrotechnical Training, the charity that administers the end-point assessment for all qualifying electricians said: “We were delighted to witness George pass the new-style assessment and also complete the new apprenticeship standard in the process. These are two important ‘firsts’ for the industry and we look forward to rolling out the new assessment even further in 2018.”

George is one of 116 apprentices at Clarkson Evans to have qualified as electricians in 2017.

 

Clarkson Evans has experienced significant growth since the company was established 36 years ago. Now the company has over 800 staff and takes on apprentices across its network of 17 branches.

Last year the company wired one in 10 new homes built across England and Wales for national house builders such as Taylor Wimpey, Persimmon Homes, Barratt and David Wilson.

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