Google starts droning on about home delivery

Another one of Google’s bright ideas is starting to bear fruit as subsidiary Wing starts testing an air delivery service in North Canberra, Australia.

Almost every company on the planet searches for the diversification holy grail, but few have the patience, investor confidence and bank accounts to see through the quest. Google is one of the rare exceptions. A company which seems to revel in investing in the preposterous, giving every idea as much capital as necessary to ensure it can be a success, should the conditions be right. Wing is another example of this.

“Today, we are excited to be launching our first air delivery service in North Canberra,” the Wing team wrote in a Medium blog. “Our service allows customers to order a range of items such as fresh food, hot coffee or over-the-counter chemist items on our mobile app and have them delivered directly to their homes by drone in minutes.”

The initial service will only be available to a limited set of eligible homes in the suburbs of Crace, Palmerston and Franklin for the moment, but the ambition is clear; drones can disrupt the logistics and delivery segments.

The first partners of the service will be Kickstart Expresso, Capital Chemist, Pure Gelato, Jasper + Myrtle, Bakers Delight, Guzman Y Gomez, and Drummond Golf, allowing customers to choose from a range of goods, though Wing has stated it is open to new ideas.

Starting in 2014, Wing has been working to realise the drone delivery dream in Australia. Live trials started 18 months ago, delivering food, small household items and over the counter chemist products to more than 3,000 times to Australian homes in Fernleigh Park, Royalla and Bonython. Progress might have been slow, but that never seems to bother the Googlers.

The pursuit of disruption is becoming somewhat of a speciality for Google, either through acquisition or nurturing ideas in the Moonshot labs. Loon is another idea few companies would have thought realistic, but in signing a partnership with Telkom Kenya, Google is proving the delivery of connectivity through balloons is a perfectly reasonable business plan.

This is not to say every Google idea turns out to be a raving success. Google Fiber started off well but soon got canned as the search giant realised fixed line connectivity was much harder than it first seemed.

This is of course not the only attempt at monetizing drone technology through home delivery. AT&T has been creeping forward with its own drone programme in the US, while Amazon has been conducting trials in the UK, and Vodafone delivered an iPhone to a customer in New Zealand. All of these trials would have been deemed successful, though you have to wonder whether they are commercially viable.

For Amazon, the idea of drone delivery makes sense. Having drones to deliver goods from fulfilment centres to remote locations answers a difficult logistics issue, while AT&T and Vodafone might be able to craft a connectivity offering, but Google has something which many of these companies do not; existing relationships with numerous businesses, irrelevant as to whether they are large or small.

Almost every business in the developed markets will have a relationship with Google, such is the power, influence and simplicity of the platform. This extends from listings in the search engine, the Maps products or through to the YouTube platform. This offers an incredible opportunity to leverage relationships and make an idea which might not be considered commercially viable profitable.

Once again this demonstrates the power of the internet and new technology. Through a simple app, customers will be able to do more without leaving the flat, while businesses will be able to expand the perimeter of their operations.

Of course, you have to consider whether local and national governments are ready to foster this kind of entrepreneurship, but that has never stopped the internet giants before. Google is showing its pedigree for innovation again, taking an idea which seems ridiculous and potentially making it work.

Huawei does 5G Gangnam style

Huawei teamed up with Korean operator LG U+ to demonstrate some novel 5G applications on the streets of Seoul.

The two set up what they claim is ‘the world’s first large-scale 5G network test in a pre-commercial environment’ in the Gangnam district, which is known for its high-rise buildings as well as the cool kids alluded to in the famous pop song. It featured base stations using the 3.5 GHz and the 28 GHz spectrum bands.

This demo was designed to coincide with the fourth global 5G event, which otherwise yielded suspiciously little news. It was symptomatic of the growing desperation from the telecoms industry to demonstrate 5G infrastructure is worth spending money on because of all the great utopian stuff it will enable.

Among those, apparently, are the ability to stream 4K IPTV video into a moving bus and to control and stream data from a VR drone. How we have coped without such basic essentials to date is a mystery, but the good news is those dark days will soon be behind us.

Huawei drone

“The world’s first large-scale joint 5G pre-commercial test indicated a significant breakthrough in 5G,” said Kim Dae Hee, VP of LG U+ 5G Strategy Unit. “We believe that Huawei is set to help LG U+ implement the world’s first Commercial 5G network over 3.5 GHz.”

“In the Gangnam District of Korea, we have successfully validated the 5G pre-commercial network and released the world’s first 3.5 GHz CPE,” Zhou Yuefeng, Huawei Wireless Product Line CMO. “This demonstrates that Huawei will maintain its capability to provide competitive E2E 5G network products in 2018. LG U+ and Huawei will continue to conduct further research into 5G technologies and build a robust E2E industry ecosystem to achieve business success in the upcoming 5G era.”

Incidentally Gangnam Style recently became only the third YouTube video to hit three billion views, having been the first to cross the one billion mark. It is only third on the list of all time YouTube views, however, behind Despacito and See You Again – both also music videos. In fact music videos dominate the top 100 most-viewed YouTube vids, accounting for 95 of them.

 

UK Police set to be given new powers in Drone Bill

In a shock move, the UK Government is preparing rules to address the rise of drones before they actually hit the mass market.

Under the new rules, police will have the power to ground and seize drone parts to prove it has been used to commit an offence, while there will also be no-fly zones introduced in the areas surrounding airports or above 400 feet. Drone owners will also be forced to register drones weighing over 250 grams, and also sit safety awareness tests, as well as use apps to make sure any planned flight can be made safely and legally. The latter three will be present to improve accountability of owners.

“Drones have great potential and we want to do everything possible to harness the benefits of this technology as it develops,” said Aviation Minister Baroness Liz Sugg.

“But if we are to realise the full potential of this incredibly exciting technology, we have to take steps to stop illegal use of these devices and address safety and privacy concerns. These new laws strike a balance, to allow the vast majority of drone users to continue flying safely and responsibly, while also paving the way for drone technology to revolutionise businesses and public services.”

Could this mean regulation is keeping up with technology!? Just to put things in perspective, artificial intelligence is an area which is still yet to be addressed from a legislation and regulation perspective, even though it is an area which is arguably more advanced than drones. Admittedly, it is an immensely complicated area to regulate, so let’s use another example; social media.

The internet giants are still roaming in a relatively lawless regulatory landscape, even though mass market acceptance has been there for around a decade. The difference in the way social media giants and telcos can manage and utilise customer information (in personalized advertising for instance) is still staggering, though it is addressed slowly. This is the pace of change we are used to when it comes to regulating the TMT space.

Some might argue these rules are already arriving a bit late, considering there have been a number of near misses in recent months. Back in October, a drone passed over an Airbus 319 which was approaching Gatwick Airport to land, with 130 people on board. The captain of the plane said a larger aircraft might not have missed the drone.

While drones did look like being somewhat of a fad in years gone, recent trends and new business ideas have made the technology look more realistic. Huawei showed off a prototype for an autonomous, flying taxi in London recently, Facebook has been championing drones for connectivity in rural areas and Amazon has been playing around with drones as a new delivery option.

To support the new rules, the government is working with manufacturers to use geo-fencing to prevent drones from entering restricted zones, while it has also launched an initiative to invite cities to become test beds to advance the technology. The Flying High Challenge will include five cities in the research and development of drone technology which could transform critical services. Ideas floated so far include emergency health services and organ transport, as well as parcel delivery and logistics.

We are struggling to think of another example where regulation has kept in step with technology. With the Drone Bill set to hit the Houses of Parliament in early 2018, it might not be too long before the new rules are a reality. Perhaps this new type of proactive bureaucrat, who addresses technology breakthroughs before they hit the mass market, is something we can look forward to seeing more of. Or perhaps not.

Huawei shows flying cars might not be that far away

Pessimism from the telcos doesn’t seemed to have dampened the enthusiasm of Huawei, as the team demonstrate flying taxis might be doable sooner than we think.

Whenever you imagine the future there are numerous images which come to mind. Whether its holographs or robots running around everywhere, possibly more common is the idea of flying cars. This however has always been a pipe dream, but Huawei has shown it might not be as far away as we think.

Working alongside Chinese firm Ehang, the team brought a prototype of a single person, driverless, flying drone to London. It isn’t exactly what you imagined when it comes to a flying car, but it is a pretty impressive piece of kit. Due to licensing restrictions (the Excel is very close to London City Airport), the pair weren’t able to show us the ‘car’ in full flight here in London, but there was a video link to China where it took off and did a 200 metre round-trip.

Using four 4K cameras and four LiDARs, the ‘car’ can squeeze in, and we mean squeeze in, one passenger weighing less than 120kg, and make a trip of up to 41km, travelling at speeds of up to 100mph. The drone will go up to a maximum of 300 metres, of course depending on new standards and regulations. The initial idea will be as an alternative for taxis, but who knows where it could head next.

Standards and regulations can often be seen as a bit of a stumbling block of course, but that might not be the case here. During the conference, Huawei also announced the Digital Sky Initiative, a programme to spur on drone applications and enable the low airspace digitized economy via enhanced low airspace network coverage.

The Digital Sky Initiative will take place over three stages. Firstly, setting up connected drone application demo sites and promotes standardization of cellular-network-based management. Secondly, field tests and aims to achieve small-scale commercial use. And finally, delivering low airspace digital networks into commercial use, and provide network coverage for at least 30% of low airspace. Deployment in five countries might sound ambitious, but there is a lot of work going on behind the scenes.

The demonstration by Huawei and Ehang at the show highlighted it is technically possible, and the team plan to bring out a second prototype next year, but there are also other initiatives going one elsewhere. Uber, for instance, is working hard to bring its own version of the flying taxi to Dubai in the next year or two.

Taking over the skies will be immensely complicated from a management perspective, so don’t expect such a trend to be available for consumer vehicles in the near future, or ever, as there are too many idiots out there. And the connectivity challenge has not been fully satisfied, this will probably have to wait for 5G in most places. Aviation rules still need to be changed, and the consumer might not be ready for such a step forward as driverless, flying cars.

That said, the future doesn’t seem that far away anymore. Here’s a vid we took of the presentation.

 

BT and Facebook give cheeky TIP for start-ups of the future

BT and Facebook have announced the three winning start-ups who will be admitted into the UK Telecom Infra Project Ecosystem Acceleration Centre (TEAC).

The Telecom Infra Project (TIP) has primarily been a playground for the big boys to date, all trying to solve the problem of ubiqtuous connectivity for their own self-serving reasons, but more recently there has been a search to bring start-ups into the community. The winners in the UK were KETS Quantum, Unmanned Life, and Zeetta Networks.

The TEAC initiative sounds a bit like a Dragon’s Den style audition in which start-ups pitch their credentials for admittance into the inner circle. We’re focusing on the UK here, but it should be worth noting these competitions are going on all over the world, and there are some substantial rewards. The start-ups will gain access to more than $170 million in venture capital funding and mentorship opportunities from UK investors, as well as the opportunity to rub shoulders with the other members which include some of the largest players in the tech game.

So who are the winners?

UnManned Life

UnManned Life started life in London in 2015, but has grown quickly to hold a presence in Brussels, Paris, San Francisco and Mumbai. The focus here is Autonomy-as-a-Service to manage unmanned ground vehicles, aerial vehicles and other robotics systems through a single interface.

Right now the solutions which the company offers are pretty basic (if you could call them basic), focusing on parcel sorting, smart factory solutions and surveillance inspections, but the team has sky high ambitions. Drones are an area which seem to be quite a focus here.

Recently at a BT conference, the team unveiled Drones-as-a-Service, which makes uses of MEC Servers to remove the latency challenge which might be associated with drones. Data packets the drones are sending are immediately re-routed to Drone Control Application Servers, which creates a closed loop where specific data for autonomous flight is sent directly to where it needs to be and all other data packets travel to the EPC. It removes the need for EPC approval means that all data reaches its desired destination sooner. Neat.

KETS Quantum

KETS Quantum is a bit more on the nerdy side of tech. There aren’t any drones to play around with here, these guys are security buffs.

KETS has developed a range of technologies for quantum-secured communications, including quantum key distribution (QKD) and quantum random number generation (QRNG). It focuses on the deep and dark world of data encryption, but more specifically the challenge of our current methods been rendered useless by the improvement of processing power and the introduction of quantum computing.

Most encryption techniques work by hiding the key to read the message within very complex mathematical problems. The difficulty of the problems usually mean it is almost impossible to crack the message, but advances in compute power have made some encryption software more vulnerable. Such a challenge will ensure companies like KETS will have a place in the ecosystem for a while.

Zeetta Networks

And just to take things up a level, Zeetta Networks make KETS and UnManned Life seem like high school jocks. Who doesn’t like a bit of Software Defined Networking.

Zeetta Networks started life in the University of Bristol focusing in the design, development and marketing of Software Defined Networking (SDN) and Network Function Virtualisation (NFV) solutions. The main product for the team, NetOS, focuses on creating a centralised view extended physical networks and enabling the construction of virtual network slices.

The team are currently involved in a number of different projects including the Bristol Is Open smart city initiative, at Ashton Gate Stadium open wifi venture and various other 5G orientated schemes.