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Around Tech This Week ... Funding deserts UK start-ups ... and much more !

Around Tech This Week ... Funding deserts UK start-ups ... and much more !

Funding deserts UK start-ups; Zinc-air battery, a new contender; AI beats egames champion; Tricorder smartphone

Just as I’ve grudgingly praised the UK government’s actions backing industry in Brexit talks, more bad news comes for the UK’s tech sector in today’s Times. The broadsheet has reported that the UK’s start-ups are now being denied access to their biggest source of funding - the European Investment Fund (EIF), which could see a loss of funding in excess of £500m a year.

The country currently has a has a vibrant start-up culture. From Silicon Roundabout in London’s East End, to Dundee in the north of Scotland, the UK has embraced the digital revolution with one of the most innovative digital start-up cultures outside the US. Today’s news threatens that booming industry, with European competitors such as Berlin happy to offer these companies a new home. An EIF spokesman denied the UK was being deliberately targetted, but said the organisation needed to be more thorough and take into account, a wide range of factors. With start-ups being the roots of tomorrow’s industry, and  the digital economy vital to the UK’s industry, the government has to act to reassure start-ups quickly.

The German capital is currently flavour of the month for the tech industry, with Korean behemoth, Samsung, last month announcing it would situate its new European headquarters in the city, because London was less “fun” for people who aren’t rich. Many British people, including myself, can’t disagree.

Another week, another battery technology. A perfect battery would solve much of the technology industries problems, and there is no shortage of work being done in the area. Two weeks ago, Na-ion batteries were in the news, this week it is zinc-air. The University of Sydney has been working to overcome one stumbling block that is keeping zinc-air from challenging Li-ion’s place at the top table.

Zinc-air has the potential to be cheaper than Li-ion technology, as zinc is much more abundant than lithium on earth. Zinc-air batteries have a theoretical capacity five times that of Li-ion, are safer and greener, the big BUT, or at least one of them, is that they have a problem with recharging, due to a lack of electrocatalysts to reduce and generate oxygen during recharging. The University of Sydney, under lead author Professor Yuan Chen, has pioneered a new method to create bifunctional oxygen electrocatalysts, which allows zinc-air batteries to be manufactured. The technique controls the composition, size and crystallinity of metal oxides simultaneously. Tests so far have been encouraging with less that 10% battery drop over 60 charge cycles.

In my personal life, I’m a great fan of computer games, and one game I played, very badly, for a while was DOTA 2. The game involves two teams, both of five heroes, playing against each other to destroy the opposition’s base. The game is notable for two reasons. The first is that, as a competitive game, DOTA 2 is a leader in the new field of esports, and features the largest prize of any digital sport - in fact larger than most “real-life” sports. Last year’s International event had a prize pool of $20 million, and this year’s event is over $24 million. The winning team, usually consisting of five teenage boys, will walk away with a shared prize of $10 million. To put that into perspective, the winner of golf’s US Masters tournament will receive just under $2 million from a prize pool of $11 million.

DOTA 2 is a complex game, with a choice of 112 heroes, who each have four unique skills. The heroes are deployed on a map and interact in a countless combination of ways, along with the games non-player controlled “creep” elements. To demonstrate the power of the company’s AI, OpenAI put it up against two of the strongest DOTA 2 players in the world and won. Although the trial was limited to one player controlled hero, the AI learned throughout the event to avoid traps set by players. You can watch some of the action here. It is an impressive demonstration that shows how far AI has come.

Some stereotypes refuse to go away. One of those is that engineers and technology workers are obsessed with Star Trek. University of Illinois researchers may have had Star Trek’s Tricorder in mind when developing its latest breakthrough. The team have developed a $500 TRI-Analyzer that attaches to a smartphone and can accurately analyze blood, urine and saliva by turning the smartphone’s camera into a high-performance spectrometer. You can read more here.