UKTI TechWorld 2011

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He shoots .. he scores .. Goooaaaal!!

For millions of footballers around the world these phrases are heard at almost every match. So imagine my surprise when I heard them being used at the UK Trade and Investment TechWorld Conference. No, we weren’t blessed with the company of a premier league team at the conference, rather the work of Dr. Subramanian Ramamoorthy from the University of Edinburgh’s Informatics Department.

To the layman, these are cute knee-height robots that look like sophisticated toys capable of performing a number of pre-set functions, which could be bought at any specialist store. In reality, these were advanced robots benefiting from research in autonomous decision making, manifest in a small football pitch where robots played against one another. Sure, programming of some sort was involved, but it was the autonomy displayed by the robots, each named after famous personalities (male and female) from Edinburgh, which truly captured people’s attention.

In my own capacity, my first thought was shadow boxing from Reel Steel; the second, a more troubling, Skynet; the third, iRobot. Science fiction has a wonderful way of entertaining us while playing on our fears. What this research shows is that we are many years away from a robot revolt.

Elsewhere at TechWorld I encountered another university-based initiative, EvoFIT. The service replaces the traditional piece-me-together Mr. Potato’s head style e-fit where victims of crime select eyes, noses, lips, while piecing together images of the perpetrator.

Instead, the software capitalises less on specific shapes and more on the perception we have of specific shapes, creating an ‘averaged’ image.  From there, a number of other images are created, the closer image is chosen, then another set of images are created; and so the process repeats until such time as a final image is selected.
And while it was late to begin with, it is both unexpected and refreshing to see that the Olympic Games in London have received such strong cross-party support so as to ensure that it will run on time.

As well as creating a more accurate representation of the individual sought, the technology can also be reverse engineered into CCTV tracking systems. Take, for example, a criminal who has just robbed a store. While making his getaway he chooses to disguise himself with perhaps a scarf, and later perhaps dyes his hair, and even later, gains weight. Integrating this technology into camera systems enables a series of averages to be sought enabling the authorities to identify the perpetrator whether on the same day, the same year, or even years down the line.

Both the autonomous robots and EvoFIT are amongst the examples of innovation that have positioned the UK as a leader in technology. The conference itself was opened by Ed Vaizey, the Minister for Culture, Communication and Creative Industries, and John Armitt, the Chairman of the Olympic Delivery Authority. And while it was late to begin with, it is both unexpected and refreshing to see that the Olympic Games in London have received such strong cross-party support so as to ensure that it will run on time.

Simple Propositions

Innovation isn’t, however, restricted to leading industry players or university institutions. One of the partner programs featured was the Tech City Entrepreneurs Festival. Dubbed the UK’s Silicon Valley, its intention is to help incubate the next generation of high tech entrepreneurs. One of the programs, Angels in the City, will generate £10 million (US$ 15 million) a year that will fund start-up high tech businesses. If you are a budding entrepreneur in the UK, this is the place to be.

Another of the programs at the conference was the London MOBIP innovation and investment event. The Mobile Service Innovation Platform brought together a number of entrepreneurs from start-ups addressing fashion and commerce to established businesses that have traded for over a decade, each seeking investment to develop or expand their proposition. Day one featured a practice round where budding entrepreneurs had a trial run for their presentation being provided with feedback from a panel of investors. The tweaked presentations were then delivered to a much larger audience on day two.

For me, the most interesting company at MOBIP was iMediaShare. The proposition here is simple – many of the good ones always are. Your mobile, the one item most people carry with them wherever they go, allows you to access any TV show which you can then play them on “your TV, your friend’s TV, or any TV.”

What is clear from the event is that both technological innovation and entrepreneurialism are two very keen drivers that work to improve our condition. From sophisticated robots which may one day be able to assist the elderly, to the simpler mobile apps/services that are designed to improve the user experience, a clear message is being communicated: that the world is constantly changing and those who are so inclined ought to be a part of that process.


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