Catch up on this week’s round-up of the latest hosting and tech news. Here’s what we’ve uncovered since our last edition.
VR Helps Lonely Pensioners
In an attempt to combat loneliness among the elderly, academics at Sheffield Hallam University have joined forces with Age UK Sheffield to initiate a pilot scheme dubbed ‘Planet Wellbeing’ that brings pensioners into the realm of virtual reality. Using the VR headsets, volunteers can engage in a range of activities, such as think dancing, card games and more.
The approach used by the pilot scheme is based on over a decade of research that suggests older people are motivated to be more physically active when taking part in fun and social virtual activities. With around 1.4 million older people in the UK frequently feeling lonely and the number expected to rise as the population ages, the 18-month trial will examine the potential of VR technology to revolutionise mental health and wellbeing treatment for the older generation.
Flying Taxi Factory
Brazilian aeroplane manufacturer, Embraer, has revealed plans to build a new factory near Sao Paulo, with the aim of producing electric flying taxis by 2026. The creation of these aircraft, which resemble a combination of a helicopter and a drone and can carry up to six passengers, will be handled by Embraer’s subsidiary, Eve.
Currently, Eve holds orders for nearly 3,000 of these air taxis and intends to assemble a prototype before the end of this year. It is hoped the taxi, an electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, will have the potential to alleviate urban traffic congestion and provide a new and more eco-friendly way to transport cargo.
The vehicles will initially be used in taxi fleets, piloted by human drivers. However, future plans include the introduction of self-piloted vehicles. As the vehicles are completely electric, they will provide emission-free flights, contributing to the broader goal of reducing air pollution.
In an effort to alleviate the long queues and congestion at St Pancras International station, Eurostar has unveiled a new facial verification system. Designed to bypass manual ticket and passport checks, the system is a direct response to the increased time it takes to process passengers resulting from Brexit and the enhanced checks by French border staff.
The system, known as SmartCheck, is currently available to Business Premier and Carte Blanche passengers. To use the system, travellers must use an app before their journey to scan their identity documents and verify their ticket and face. If successful, Eurostar intends to extend the availability of SmartCheck to a wider customer base. There are also plans to implement the system across the Eurostar network in mainland Europe.
Unfortunately, passengers’ luggage will still have to undergo traditional security scanning and French border officials will still manually check passports, so while it may ease queues and shorten boarding times, it won’t eradicate all those travel issues.
According to the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS), 2023 has seen a record number of students choosing to study computing courses. While the number of applications for computer-related courses has increased annually since 2019, this year they rose by nearly 10%, with the most notable increases seen in software engineering, computer science, computer games, animation and AI.
The driving force behind the trend seems to be the increasing influence of digital technology and artificial intelligence, with the ongoing public discussion around technology and AI fuelling interest even further. As a result, computing is now the seventh most popular area of higher education study in the UK, which is good news for businesses struggling with a lack of IT talent in the jobs market.
One area that remains a concern, however, is that despite the percentage of female students rising, the growth is only small and computing remains a male-dominated field.
Stratospheric UK Solar Flight
Hampshire-based company, Prismatic, has marked an aviation first as their solar-powered aircraft, Phasa-35, successfully completed its inaugural high-altitude flight into the stratosphere. The unmanned plane, with the wingspan of an airliner but weighing only the same as a motorbike, is designed for surveillance and communication applications.
Launched from Spaceport America in New Mexico, its 24-hour test flight saw it reach an altitude of over 66,000 ft. Once operational, it is hoped the plane can maintain similar altitudes and stay airborne for over a year.
The Phasa-35, an acronym for Persistent High Altitude Solar Aircraft, represents a significant achievement for Prismatic, a team of 60 that developed and built the solar-electric plane in just two years. Now under the ownership of BAE Systems, Prismatic collaborated with various firms, including the Met Office and battery developer, Amprius, to realise its vision.
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