Business Spotlight 29th January

As part of our ongoing mission to support UK businesses with innovation and funding, our business spotlight section contains news and resources which your company may find useful.

SpaceX Satellites Hit Record Numbers

In the latest SpaceX innovation news, the company has made a new world record for numbers of satellites sent into space. 143 payloads were sent into orbit this week on SpaceX’s Falcon rocket, which launched from Florida. This beats the 104 satellites launched in 2017 aboard the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle by Indian Space Research Organisation. 

These satellites are all part of SpaceX’s Starlink Satellite constellation programme. The programme is working to create high quality, low-cost, and low latency broadband across the globe, focusing on isolated areas, or ‘notspots,’ with minimal internet access. The first launch took place on the 24th of May 2019.

starlink-satellite

Using lasers, the satellites transmit information amongst themselves with light pulses. As the speed of light is faster in a space vacuum than it is in fibre optic cables, the satellites provide lower broadband latency than any other. 

Satellites, though previously perceived as slow and expensive, have taken the lead in the quest for flying internet. Many alternative projects have recently shut down in response to SpaceX’s growing influence. Google’s Loon project, a large balloon network delivering internet in remote areas, has been scrapped after 9 years of progress. Facebook was forced to do the same, shutting down Aquila, the drone-based internet network, in 2018.

That being said, a number of companies are embracing the popular new strategy, and are also sending a number of satellites into the atmosphere. Rival OneWeb, while not yet ready for public use, have begun launching their own satellites into the atmosphere. Amazon has also launched their own satellite internet project, called Kuiper. In the past year, they have already launched 3,000 satellites. 

So, what does this mean? These are just some of the many space-focused internet companies launching satellites into orbit. A number of opposition groups have questioned the positive nature of these new internet networks. Dr Alice Gorman, leading academic in space archeology, explains that ‘these mega-constellations are being sold with the idea that satellite broadband is a universal good,’ yet, ‘satellites are not the solution to everything.’ She explains that, despite the facade of philanthropy, the focus of these projects is profit, and many ‘notspot’ locations would be better served through ‘investment in terrestrial infrastructure.’ Others, specifically astronomers and stargazers, are worried about the impact these extensive satellite networks will have on advances in astronomy. Elon Musk responded, via twitter, that ‘there are already 4900 satellites in orbit, which people notice ~0% of the time.’ 

Another issue of a space satellite internet programme is cost. CCS Insight analyst Kester Mann explained that ‘space is a huge and risky investment.’ With most satellite companies in production phase, and SpaceX’s Starlink Satellite Constellation programme still in the early stages, there is still scepticism of success. Not only from a space point of view, but from the ground too. With high costs comes high prices, and despite the network being supposedly tailored to rural communities with minimal internet access, the price barely reflects that. Mann suggests that if these programmes wish to be successful, the prices will need to be dropped. 

Annual Conference on Negotiating AI Bots Has Seen New Advances

In early January, the Automated Negotiating Agent Competition helped it’s 11th annual competition. The competition, nicknamed the Olympics for Hagglebots, involves over 100 participants presenting their Artificial Intelligence (AI) creations that have the ability to effectively negotiate. 

The competition is part of the International Joint Conference on Artificial intelligence. Usually held in Japan, the global participants, including French, Israeli, and Turkish contestants, met via virtual conference amidst coronavirus restrictions. The winners this year were from Universities in Turkey and Japan. The Turkish team created a bot negotiation using a factory supply change manager. Japan created an AI negotiator to use in the popular ‘Are You A Werewolf?’ communication game. 

hagglebots

the co-founder of the Hagglebot Olympics, explained that in the early days, the AI bots were ‘really easily outperformed by human beings.’ Yet, as time goes on, these bots are ‘behaving closer to human form, sometimes even better than humans.’ While Baarslag clarifies that these domains are still highly artificial, there is clear progress in AI negotiation.

This competition is not the only location where artificial intelligence is being trained to negotiate. Suppliers selling to Walmart may have already encountered an AI negotiator. Pactum has created an AI negotiator bot to help the giant retailer interact with wholesalers and negotiate price and payment contract terms. The concept of negotiating contracts with robots seems unpopular, yet Pactum’s Chief Executive, Martin Rand, presents the latter. ‘We now see that some vendors prefer talking to a bot,’ he explains. ‘If there are tens of thousands of vendors, it’s hard to get human attention sometimes.’ 

The bots will ask vendors unrelated questions to determine an idea of their values and preferences. The aim is, in fact, for no negotiating to happen at all. The machines will learn enough about the sellers to know exactly which deal to suggest. Baarslag suggests that when machines learn enough about the individual they are interacting with, the deal ‘just becomes a big calculation, something computers are amazingly good at.’ 

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