Plato harmonises vinyl and digital sounds for audiophiles

Trying to reinvigorate the reputation of Britain’s entertainment media hardware reputation, Newbury startup Entotem has announced the forthcoming release of its Plato Home Entertainment System. The system cashes in on the growing retro-love of vinyl but gives it a digital age twist.

Unlike most modern entertainment systems, Plato has pre-amp inputs for the coil or magnetic pickups found on high quality transcription turntable decks. Furthermore it can record the output so the music can be enjoyed away from home.

Rippingly good

More than just a music amp, Plato has been engineered to offer top-quality sound and vision, bringing the entertainment centre concept into the hi-fi world.

Entotem Plato backEntotem MD Martin Boddy said, “Designed as a media management system, it complements the equipment already in the home and particularly enables people with a record collection to enjoy their music with more flexibly and at a high resolution of far superior quality to the alternatives currently available.”

Entotem was founded in 2013 by “four music-loving entrepreneurs” with the aim of producing a high resolution audio, video and internet streaming service supported by a bespoke Android operating system. Being audiophiles, the team also wanted produce a unit that would allow the warmer tones of existing and new vinyl discs to be reproduced faithfully tooffer a different listening experience to the harsher world of CDs.

Plato connects to existing hi-fi equipment such as vinyl disc, cassette, CD players and TVs. Apart from being a player, Plato automatically records from legacy analogue devices and then replays at high quality – enabling record, CD, video and DVD collections to be stored together in one place. Anyone who has a vinyl collection always has a lazy day when getting up every 20 minutes or so to flip the disk over is a chore, Plato offers the opportunity to enjoy an uninterrupted stream of music on these occasions.

The Android operating system also automates the cataloguing process using the Gracenote web service.Once recording is complete, track and metadata information is retrieved from  the Gracenote database by sending media samples. This  returns images and metadata for each album and track for saving to the integral 2TB hard drive.

“Plato has in-built track recognition while recording with a touch screen, and shows the track, and even album, artwork. Music can also be compressed into an MP3 and played in the car,” Boddy added, “The ability to store Blu-rays and DVDs effectively also makes this a movie library, and using industry standard protocols, it is possible to stream your music and video around the home, to devices you probably already own, maximising connectivity.”

The Plato Home Entertainment System will be available from 1 July 2015 at a retail price of £3,600.

Bristol debuts microscopic ‘sonic screwdriver’ centrifuge

The University of Bristol and China’s Northwestern Polytechnical University have developed a method to create minute acoustic vortices that could be a basis for creating minute centrifuges for biological cell sorting or for water purification.

Researchers from Bristol’s Department of Mechanical Engineering and their Chinese colleagues have published their results in Physical Review Letters, a highly influential journal outlining physics research breakthroughs. It explains how the tiny vortices can grip and spin microscopic particles suspended in water.

Sound research

Bristol is just a stone’s throw from the Doctor Who studios near Cardiff and this has had an obvious effect on the team’s claims. Bruce Drinkwater (pictured), professor of ultrasonics at Bristol’s DME, and one of the authors of the study, said: “If the large-scale acoustic vortex devices were thought of as sonic screwdrivers, we have invented the watchmakers sonic screwdriver. We have now shown that these vortices can rotate microparticles, which opens up potential applications such as the creation of microscopic centrifuges for biological cell sorting or small-scale, low-power water purification.”

Bristol University - Prof Bruce DrinkwaterExperiments have shown that acoustic vortices act like “tornados” of sound, causing microparticles to rotate and this draws them to the vortex’s core. As with objects sucked up by wind-based tornados, what happens to the particles depends strongly on their size, the research claimed.

The team used a number of tiny ultra-sonic loudspeakers arranged in a circle around a water container to create the swirling sound waves. A mixture of microparticles, less than one micron in size, introduced to the water were shown to rotate slowly about the vortex core. Larger microparticles of household flour were drawn into the core and were seen to spin at high speeds or become stuck in a series of circular rings due to acoustic radiation forces.

Dr ZhenYu Hong, of the Department of Applied Physics at Northwestern Polytechnical University, said, “Previously researchers have shown that much larger objects, centimetres in scale, could be rotated with acoustic vortices, proving that they carry rotational momentum.”

Observation of orbital angular momentum transfer from bessel-shaped acoustic vortices to diphasic liquid-microparticle mixtures by ZhenYu Hong, Jie Zhang and Bruce W Drinkwater went online today.

Acoustic vortex

Massive Analytic and UCL’s business brain breakthrough

Innovate UK is co-funding a collaboration between University College London and artificial intelligence specialist startup Massive Analytic to collaborate on developing artificial precognition capabilities for business analytics.

The year-long Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) will seek to develop further ground-breaking uses of predictive analysis and data discovery to Massive Analytic’s Oscar AP platform which is currently in beta test. The project will develop intelligent recommendation algorithms and create a prediction engine that can be used by non-technical staff to not only create powerful analytics searches but also automatically test, improve and create searches using the in-built artificial intelligence algorithms.

Oscar winning performance

The UCL Department of Computer Science team will be led by Drs Jun Wang (pictured) Dr Jun Wang UCLand Tamas Jabor in conjunction with Dr Kleanthis Malialis who will together examine optimal control theory and apply it to intelligent recommender systems to create real-world applications. Optimal control theory is a mathematical framework to streamline decision-making processes, such as those involved in improving customer satisfaction – a far superior version of the simplistic algorithms applied by retail websites to make personal recommendations for customers, based on preferences and purchasing decisions made by other purchasers.

The process is one of continuous learning and improvement which will make Oscar AP more accurate and will fine-tune the application to a specific businesses practices and needs. By addressing the challenges of fully automating data science workflow to achieve scalability, the goal is to be able to predict outcomes with the absolute minimum human input. For example, if you tell Oscar AP you want to predict revenue, it will select the processes and algorithms completely autonomously to make predictions, learning continuously from the actual outcomes to make even more accurate predictions over time making the application as much of an asset as any human expert.

Dr Wang, the academic supervisor for the UCL Department of Computer Science, said, “The KTP project will explore practical methods of automating the selection of machine learning algorithms for big data analytics. We are excited about the KTP project with Massive Analytic as this provides a channel for us to transfer our research results in information retrieval and recommender system at UCL into actual products and to be directly used by end users.”

Supported by UCL Advances, the college’s centre for entrepreneurship and business interaction, the academics and Massive Analytic will develop a universal selector engine for business which will be embedded within the platforms Artificial Precognition (AP), leading to a radical innovation, a solution for the need to harness machine inferential thinking in diverse emerging applications. It will recommend the best way of approaching a particular problem taking into account the entire analytics workflow. Because Oscar AP applications can be developed by usersto help them gain better insights more easily, it will allow data scientists to do more constructive work than merely developing processes for these individual needs.

George Frangou, the executive chairman of Massive Analytic, said, “The KTP with UCL will help develop Oscar AP into a generalised application for emulating a user’s thought processes, through the use of optimal control theory and the development of a universal recommendations for business algorithms. Business users will be able to easily carry out advanced analytics, and data scientists will have time freed up to discover more insights. The novel use of optimal control theory will optimise processes to achieve the required output, learning on the fly from successes and failures.”

Graphene will light up the consumer market with the launch of LED bulbs

A lower-energy lightbulb based on graphene has been launched by Graphene Lighting, a spinout commercial enterprise from the National Graphene Institute (NGI). The company claims the bulbs will use less power and will have a longer lifetime with lower manufacturing costs.

The claims have yet to be proven, but an estimated 10 percent energy saving has been claimed for the process which coats LEDs with graphene and, according to Graphene Lighting, the lightbulbs will be available “in a matter of months, at a competitive cost”.

First light

This will be the first time that a graphene-based product will have hit the mass market but the current concentration on uses for this versatile material and research into less complex manufacturing processes will see more products arising in the future.

Colin Bailey, University of Manchester with graphene bulbProfessor Colin Bailey (pictured), deputy president and deputy vice-chancellor of the University of Manchester, said, “This lightbulb shows that graphene products are becoming a reality, just a little more than a decade after it was first isolated – a very short time in scientific terms. This is just the start. Our partners are looking at a range of exciting applications, all of which started right here in Manchester. It is very exciting that the NGI has launched its first product despite barely opening its doors yet.”

Although the carbon allotrope was known about and had gained some interest, it was not until 2004 that Andre Geim and Kostya Novoselov managed to isolate it and examine its startling properties. This Nobel prizewinning research has given the University of Manchester good reason to call itself, “the home of graphene” and the NGI aims to be a nursery for investigating how the developing science will grow around graphene and other “two dimensional” (2D) materials.

The term 2D is a descriptor that refers to the flat structure of graphene. The bonds between the carbon atoms are all in the same plane so that a flake of the material is just one atom thick – unlike its better-known allotrope diamond where bonds form a 3D lattice where atoms cluster around one another. To all but the most pedantic of scientists or nanotech researchers, the nano-sized dimension of graphene is no thickness at all compared to its length and breadth..

Used as a coating in the structure of the new LED lightbulbs, graphene acts as a tiny heatsink and keeps the LED cooler and operating at more efficient energy levels. The extremely thin layer is virtually transparent and light absorption is negligible. It is estimated that this will make the bulbs 10 percent more efficient and that the highly stable and tough nature of graphene will allow bulbs to last up to 25 years.

Graphene Lighting said that the bulbs will be available in the next few months and pricing is expected to be under £10 but further details of light output have yet to appear.

James Baker, graphene business director, commented, “This shows how the University of Manchester is leading the way not only in world-class graphene research but in commercialisation as well. The graphene lightbulb is proof of how partnering with the NGI can deliver real-life products which could be used by millions of people.”

Graphene Lighting has emerged as a commercial venture from Manchester University’s NGI. The company is financed by Canadian capital to develop mature manufacturing processes and to market graphene LED products.

Beverage innovation as Shoreditch bistro introduces reflective coffees

A Shoreditch coffee house has developed a drink additive that creates a mirror-like surface to its “Very Big” Americano coffees. The company only introduced the drink this morning and sales of the large-sized drinks have rocketed.

The silvered surface is applied by gently pouring it on the back of a spoon, in a similar way to how cream is floated on an Irish coffee. Unlike the cream layer, the new coating simply forma a thin but resilient silver skin on the surface, giving rise to its commercial name – the image coalescing unicoat (ICU).

Balandis Kvailas invention

The Maistas Bistro coffees don’t come cheap at £9.99 a cup but sales in the first two hours of business this morning have been “awesome”. Balandis Kvailas, the owner of Maistas, said, “Our customers have a thirst for novelty coffees at premium prices. They are looking for innovative ways to add spice to their otherwise mundane drinks and seem happy for us to skin them with the ICU coating.”

Reflective copyKvailas justified the high price by explaining that months of research and development has gone into the new drink and that has been taken into consideration in calculating the minimum viable product costings.

“We are close to Silicon Roundabout,” he explained, “and there is a significant egosystem of entrepreneurs with money to spend on great beverages. Every new drink is met with great enthusiasm – I think they would swallow anything we server up.”

Aurillia D’Ais, a “creative” at a local advertising company, commented: “It’s like amazing. We worked on the ad campaign and I must admit it’s like my second visit here this morning. I work in a pressurised industry and we need to take a break regularly for a reflective drink. I spent the last half hour sitting out here staring into my cup, looking at the cloudless, mirrored surface to get in some blue-sky thinking. I phoned my mum to tell her and she was like ‘Uh?’ and I was like ‘No, really’ and she was like “Go girl” so here I am.”

The drink has been patented and the company now hopes to cash in on its intellectual property through franchising. “We want to disrupt the coffee-drinking world and we see a big market opening. Look out, world, every coffee shop will soon be displaying signs saying, ‘ICU coming’,” Kvailas concluded.

Terry Pratchett – The good GNUs ensure he’ll never be forgotten

Terry Pratchett, the only living inhabitant of Discworld, has packed The Luggage and moved to Death’s Domain. But his passing will not go unmarked in a real world emulation of one of his fantasy world contrivances.

Apart from being an extremely popular author, Pratchett was also a classic, eccentric creator of mad inventions in the spirit of Heath Robinson. The Clacks was a typical creation. It was a messaging system like a cross between semaphore and Morse code. When the son of the inventor of the clacks is murdered, his colleagues memorialise him in a message that goes from one end of the Grand Trunk, the string of clacks towers across parts of Discworld, and back again forever.

Embedded code

The clacksmen achieved this by embedding a piece of code followed by his name in a secret message – GNU John Dearheart. G ensures the message is sent on to the next clack tower, N keeps the encrypted message secret, and U means the message will be returned when it reaches the last tower.

Pratchett Dementia FriendsIt is Pratchett’s humorous nod to the real world’s internet and the GNU operating system. The fact that GNU stands for “GNU’s not Unix” makes it a recursive acronym which probably amused the author.

Internet software developers and coders are now embedding “GNU Terry Pratchett” into their products and web pages to ensure his name lives on indefinitely. Unlike the Discworld, nothing lasts forever on the internet but it is a tribute that has attracted quite a large uptake. A website has been created to show how the message can be embedded in web and email servers, browsers, social media systems and a host of other systems.

It is sad that the stream of Discworld books will flow no longer but the dedication of nerdier fans will secretly remember Terry Pratchett.

Pratchett dialogue black

BIS and Accelerator Network challenge universities to find cybersecurity solutions

A cybersecurity hackathon that will bring together 50 of the most promising student specialists in the UK to pit their wits against some of the world’s more pressing security challenges has been announced by the Accelerator Network and the Department of Business Innovation and Skills (BIS).
The Cyber Agile Development Challenge event will take place in June where teams will not only develop applications to foil cybersecurity attacks but also pitch them to a panel of security experts.

The promising white-hatters will be drawn from 13 UK universities, which have been identified as Academic Centres of Excellence in cybersecurity research. Entrants will probably include students from Belfast, Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Lancaster, London , Newcastle, Oxford and Southampton.

Real threats

Ian Merricks (pictured), chair of the Accelerator Network, which will run the competition, said, “Cybersecurity is the number one threat facing UK businesses and critical infrastructure providers. The real issue is that countermeasures are often developed by large teams bound by out-dated organisational structures, whereas attackers work together in disparate more flexible collectives.”

Ian Merricks Accelerator AcademyParticipants will work together on challenges based on the security issues that face businesses and critical infrastructure providers. Help will be provided through tutorials backed up by mentors and other experts throughout the competition to encourage contributors to develop commercial solutions to the real-life security threats. The results will be presented to an audience of partners, industry leaders and investors at the end of the competition.

Ed Vaizey, Minister for the Digital Economy, said, “Protecting and promoting the UK’s digital economy is a key part of the government’s long-term economic plan, so it’s crucial we have the skills to do this now and in the future. I’m pleased that the Department for Business is supporting the Agile Innovation hackathon, which will be a fantastic way of developing new talent and ensuring government and industry can tackle the cyber security challenges of the future.”

If you are interested in hearing more about being involved in the Cyber Agile Development Challenge, either as an expert guest speaker or as a judge for the final pitch event, do please get in touch or visit Accelerator Network’s website.

The Accelerator Network, created by investor White Horse Capital and parent organisation for the Accelerator Academy, connects aspiring and emerging entrepreneurs with the support they need at the time they need it.

Newcastle team to develop mind-controlled prosthetic hand

A research project to develop a bionic hand that transmits pressure and temperature information directly to the user’s brain has attracted a £1.4 million investment.

The eventual system will be controlled as though it was a natural hand. Signals translated into a form the nervous system understands will stimulate the brain and signals sent back will be converted into hand actions.

Virtual reality

Led by Newcastle University, the researchers will create fingertip sensors to give the prosthesis a realistic sense of touch. In addition, a ‘virtual hand’ will provide a sense of proprioception. This is the ability assimilate stimuli within the body to sense the position, motion, and equilibrium of the body. Even if a person is blindfolded, they know the position of their hand , for example, whether it is relaxed, clenched or holding something.

THand2his “natural” control will decrease the learning time involved when a patient acquires a new device and could also reveal applications for patients with neurological conditions where reduced sensation results.

Dr Kianoush Nazarpour (pictured), who heads the Biomedical Engineering team at Newcastle University’s School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, said, “The UK leads the way in the design of prosthetic limbs but until now one of the limiting factors has been the technology to allow the hand to communicate with the brain. If we can design a system that allows this two-way communication it would help people to naturally reach out and pick up a glass, for example, while maintaining eye contact in a conversation, or pick up an apple without bruising it.”

The Newcastle team will be augmented by experts from the universities of Essex, Leeds, Keele, Southampton and London’s Imperial College London, to develop novel electronic devices that connect to the forearm neural networks to allow two-way communications with the brain.

Funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the project is one of three aimed at improving the quality of life of life for elderly or infirm people. In addition to the prosthetic hand, there is a project to develop soft robotic clothing and another to create disposable biosensors that can be used to monitor patient behaviour.

Wearable devices for clinical research gains £1.86m government funding

Researchers, lead by the University of Warwick, has been formed to design and develop bio-sensors that can be used to help rehabilitate hospital patients after leaving hospital.

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) has funded the group with a £1.86 million award. Warwick’s partners include the universities of Cardiff, Kent, University College London (UCL), Oxford Brookes, Salford and York.

Wearable technology

Teams will create wearable bio-sensors, such as temporary tattoos and smartwatches. The inexpensive, disposable, unobtrusive devices will be used by patients requiring rehabilitation, those who use wheelchairs or prosthetics, and will have applications for older people who may need constant or temporary monitoring.

Professor Christopher James - Warwick UniversityThe developments could also open up the possibility of developing a NHS-approved application program interface (API). This would allow overweight patients to upload exercise data from commercially available fitness-tracking smartwatches to their doctor to show how well they are following advice.

Users will be monitored to collect data on how they use equipment provided to them or to measure how they follow exercise regimes when they are back at home after recovering from an accident or following a stroke, for example.

Currently, there is no picture of what happens after a patient leaves a clinic or hospital. Poor use of equipment or incorrectly following physiotherapy guidance on exercise can lead to more complex health problems which may take time to pick up on through periodical check-ups. The devices will help to give early warning of these difficulties and enable medical staff to modify treatment and provide timely support to users in their own home.

The information will also benefit patients by enabling them to leave hospital sooner while giving clinicians and medical technologists a better understanding to improve homecare and improve the design and use of equipment.

Christopher James (pictured), project lead, and professor of biomedical engineering at Warwick, said, “The new information we will gain from this research will be invaluable and, through a feasibility study, it is our aim to produce a system ready for future technical and clinical trials within the NHS.”

The aims of the research have been set out in the Grants on the Web (GoW) site hosted by the EPSRC.