Vodafone reveals identity of its Digital Assistant

Vodafone today revealed the identity of the newest member of its team, a Digital Assistant. Introducing Kiri. She’s down-to-earth, easy to talk to, warm and empathetic. Kiri is tech savvy and loves to help customers get the most out of their products and services.

In a Kiwi-first, customers will be able to interact with Kiri in-store later this year.

Kiri’s strikingly life-like appearance relies on real time rendering and AI, using FaceMe’s latest techniques in machine learning based animation to produce a compelling experience. Skin texture such as pores and lines are carefully sculpted, and light reflection and roughness have been detailed by FaceMe’s artists.

The result is a one-of-a-kind Digital Assistant tailored specifically for Vodafone’s Kiwi audience.

Vodafone Customer Operations Director Helen van Orton describes the customer-led process of bringing Kiri to life.

“Customers tell us they want the experience of engaging with a Digital Assistant to be seamless, emotive and engaging – characteristics that are critical for creating trust. Customers want to feel valued and that their needs are taken care of.

“Kiri will help out with routine tasks so that our retail staff can help solve more challenging issues for clients. The technology also has the potential to create whole new job categories where frontline employees monitor conversations to continuously improve them, creating brand new professions in our evolving digital world,” van Orton said.

Natural, engaging interaction requires a less than 200 millisecond response time. Kiri’s processing has been optimised for speed and accuracy to create an experience that feels instantaneous. Computer vision technology allows Kiri to ‘see’ and behave like humans. For example, using her situational awareness system, Kiri can naturally respond when people walk up to her, and greet them proactively.

FaceMe CEO Danny Tomsett believes emotional connection is key for interaction.

“FaceMe has analysed what creates great experiences and which human qualities we need to reproduce – and supercharge – using AI technology. Through advanced Digital Human EQ combined with the IBM Watson conversational platform, we have created a great customer experience that leaves people feeling deeply content and satisfied with each conversation,” Tomsett said.

Kiri is currently in training and will start working in select Vodafone retail stores later this year.

“I’m really excited about my new role at Vodafone and to talk to our customers. I’m still learning, but in future I want to answer those complicated technical questions. I can’t wait to meet everyone!” Kiri said.

Draft decision on contributions to $50 million levy

Draft decision on contributions to $50 million telecommunications development levy

The Commerce Commission today released its draft determination on how much 17 telecommunications providers will each pay towards the Government’s $50 million Telecommunications Development Levy (TDL) for 2017/18.

The Government uses the annual levy to pay for telecommunications infrastructure and services which are not commercially viable including the relay service for the deaf and hearing-impaired, broadband for rural areas, and improvements to the 111 emergency service.

The levy, about 1% of telecommunications services revenue, is paid by providers earning more than $10 million per year from operating a telecommunications network, including providing internet, mobile, and data services to consumers.

Today’s draft determination determines proposes that Spark, Vodafone, Chorus, and 2degrees will collectively pay more than 90% of the $50 million levy. Voyager and MyRepublic will be liable for the TDL for the first time this year due to their growing revenues.

A copy of the draft determination can be found here.

The Commission invites submissions on its draft determination via email toregulation.branch@comcom.govt.nz by 5pm, 8 November 2017. The Commission expects to release its final determination in December.

Background

The Telecommunications Development Levy (TDL) was established by legislation in June 2011 and is set at $50 million a year until 2019. The Commission is required to prepare an annual TDL liability allocation determination in accordance with the Telecommunications Act 2001. The legislation requires a draft determination to be prepared and for submissions to be allowed on the draft before a final determination is prepared.

Voyager and MyRepublic qualify for the TDL as their telecommunications revenues now each exceed $10 million. REANNZ will no longer be liable following a High Court decision that it operates a private, not public, telecommunications network.

More information on the TDL is available on our website.

Dealer’s guide to electric vehicles launched

A new guide gives people in the automotive industry an overview of electric vehicles (EVs) and equips them to answer customers’ most common queries.

The Dealer’s Guide to Electric Vehicles was launched online today by the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA) as part of the Government’s information campaign to accelerate the uptake of EVs in New Zealand.

A third of New Zealanders are now open to buying a battery EV, according to EECA’s market research. This number will continue to rise as battery technology improves, charging stations spread across the country and EVs become more price competitive with petrol and diesel cars, says EECA Chief Executive Andrew Caseley.

“Car buyers are increasingly likely to ask dealers what it’s like to drive and own EVs,” he says. “This guide gives dealers an introduction to the technology to help them make the most of this rapidly evolving market.”

It includes the key reasons car buyers are motivated to start looking for an EV, essential information dealers should include in their EV ads, how to help customers decide which type of EV will best suit their needs, and information on EV batteries and charging.

While the guide targets dealers, the information provides useful background to others in the industry including automotive workshops and collision repair shops.

Mr Caseley acknowledged industry experts that had input to the guide, including the AA, MTA, MIA and VIA.
Hard copies of the Dealer’s Guide will be distributed to dealers and others in the industry in November.

Download the Dealer’s Guide to Electric Vehicles
Download the Buyer’s Guide to Electric Vehicles

Moral decisions for driverless cars – Expert Reaction

Waymo Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid undergoing testing in the San Francisco Bay Area.

In a scene right out of ‘The Good Place’, researchers have asked millions of people across the world what they think a driverless car should do in the face of an unavoidable accident.

Published today in Nature, the study used data from MIT’s Moral Machine, which has gathered over 40 million decisions in ten languages from across 233 countries.

Each scenario required making choices between various combinations of saving passengers or pedestrians and the researchers identified a number of shared moral preferences. These included sparing the most number of lives, prioritising young people and valuing humans over other animals.

The SMC asked New Zealand experts to comment on the study.

Associate Professor Alex Sims, Department of Commercial Law, University of Auckland, comments:

University of Auckland associate professor Alex Sims

“As the article argues, the question is not if driverless cars will start being driven on our roads, but when. Autonomous cars raise the issue of the trolley problem, which was once just a thought experiment in ethics. You see a run trolley (in New Zealand we would de-scribe it as a train carriage), moving towards five people lying on train tracks. Next to you is a lever that controls a switch. If you pull the lever, the trolley will be diverted onto an-other set of tracks, saving the five people. But, there is one person lying on the other set of tracks and pulling the lever will kill that person. Which one is ethically correct?

“Autonomous cars raise the stakes. If a crash is inevitable – for example, an autonomous car’s brakes fail, and the car has to choose between running over and killing three elderly people or swerving into a brick wall and killing the car’s occupants – what should the car do? The authors quite rightly state that we, as a society, cannot leave the ethical principles to either engineers or ethicists.

“We need rules. It would be unconscionable for people to drive cars that were programmed to ensure that the occupant’s safety was put ahead of everyone else’s. For ex-ample, a car cannot be programmed to run three people over to avoid the car’s sole occupant crashing into a parked car.”

No conflict of interest declared. Dr Sims’ full comments are available as a blog post on sciblogs.co.nz.

Professor Hossein Sarrafzadeh, Adjunct Professor, High Tech Research, Unitec, comments:

Professor Hossein Sarrafzadeh, Adjunct Professor, High Tech Research, Unitec

“While technical aspects of driverless cars have seen great advancement, the social aspects have not been studied well. Social scientists will certainly focus on ethics of technology including driverless cars as we get closer to wider use of this technology in the next few years. Cultural aspects of driverless cars and other artificially intelligent systems like emotion recognition systems have not been studied sufficiently either and there is a great need for research in these areas globally and in New Zealand.

“One aspect of driverless cars that is not taken into account in various studies of the social dimensions of this technology is the fact that future roads may not be the same roads we are using today. Even if we use similar roads they will be heavily sensored, intelligent roads. They will certainly be much safer, although these ethical dilemmas will remain if the same roads are used. Future roads, I believe, will be different to what we have now. There may be no humans walking across the roads that autonomous vehicles travel in.”

No conflict of interest declared.

Associate Professor Colin Gavaghan, New Zealand Law Foundation Chair in Law & Emerging Technologies, Faculty of Law, University of Otago, comments:

Associate Professor Colin Gavaghan

“These sorts of ‘trolley problems’ are philosophically fascinating, but until now, they’re rarely been much of a concern for law. Most drivers will never have to face such a stark dilemma, and those who do will not have time to think through consequentialist and deontological ethics before swerving or braking! The law tends to be pretty forgiving of people who respond instinctively to sudden emergencies. The possibility of programming ethics into a driverless car, though, takes this to another level.

“That being so, which ethics should we programme? And how much should that be dictated by majority views? Some of the preferences expressed in this research would be hard to square with our approaches to discrimination and equality – favouring lives on the basis of sex or income, for instance, really wouldn’t pass muster here.

“Age is also a protected category, but the preference for saving young rather than old lives seems to be both fairly strong and almost universal. So should driverless ethics reflect this?

“Even that preference seems likely to raise some hard questions. At what point does a ‘child’ cross the threshold to having a less ‘valuable’ life? 16? 18? Is an infant’s life more precious than a toddler’s? An 8-year-old’s? Expressed like that, the prospect of building a preference for ‘young’ lives looks pretty challenging.

“One preference that might be easier to understand and to accommodate is for the car to save as many lives as possible. Sometimes, that might mean ploughing ahead into the logging truck rather than swerving into the group of cyclists. Most of us might recognise that as the ‘right’ thing to do, but would we buy a car that sacrificed our lives – or the lives of our loved ones – for the good of the many?

“Which brings us to the role of law in all this. Maybe it just shouldn’t be legal to buy a car that would discriminate on protected grounds, or that would sacrifice other people to preserve our own safety. But in that case, how many people would buy a driverless car at all?

“What if we left it up to individual choice? Could driving a ‘selfless’ car come to be seen as an indication of virtue, like driving an electric now? Would drivers of ‘selfish’ cars be marking themselves out in the opposite direction?

“Maybe the biggest issue is this: over a million people die on the roads every year. Hundreds die in New Zealand alone. Driverless cars have the potential to reduce this dramatically. It’s important to think about these rare ‘dilemma’ cases, but getting too caught up with them might see us lose sight of the real, everyday safety gains that this technology can offer.”

No conflict of interest.

NASA Testing New Zealand Wool Tech

 

A New Zealand developed, wool-based filter technology is one of several filter systems being evaluated by NASA to protect astronauts in the Orion spacecraft on upcoming deep-space exploration missions.

Designed by Auckland based wool innovators Lanaco, the HelixTM filter is sourced from the company’s purpose bred AstinoTM sheep and is being tested for use in Orion’s emergency life-support system in the event of on-board fires.

The Helix filter could be used as a pre-filter layer for emergency personal equipment and cabin air systems, preventing clogging in other filter layers by removing thick contaminants like molten plastic.

Shaun Tan, Lanaco Head of Technology, recently returned from the Johnson Space Centre in Houston and is confident that the Helix filter can deliver on NASA’s requirements.

Artist’s rendering of the Orion crew module.

“In the case of the Orion life-support system, the Helix filter is being tested for particle loading capacity, breathability, flame resistance and the ability to function even if exposed to Orion’s water-based fire extinguisher systems.”

“The Helix filter is currently used in protective equipment in high contaminant situations like construction and mining, but firefighting in space represents a new challenge for our R&D team” says Tan.

Lanaco’s wool-filter technology made headlines in 2017 following the launch of anti-pollution face masks now popular in several Asian and Indian mega-cities.

Lanaco CEO Nick Davenport says that recent successes demonstrate the versatility and effectiveness of wool-based air filtration.

“Wool is an outstanding fibre. Its electrostatic properties catch small harmful particles, its protein structure captures gases and harmful toxins and yet the fibre is bacteria and flame resistant. We believe in wool as a sustainable, innovative solution to combat air-pollution.”

“The Lanaco story is one of New Zealand high-country farmers producing the world’s greatest natural fibre to protect people from poor quality air. To now be playing a role in supporting deep space exploration is a testament to the farmers, scientists and manufacturers that have pushed Lanaco to the forefront of filter technology” says Davenport.

Telcos Transitioning to Digital

IDC New Zealand has released its annual telecommunications market report for 2018 titled Telco Wars: A New Hope. The report says New Zealand telecommunications companies are transitioning to become genuine digital services providers.

The transition means that New Zealanders can expect a wider range of digital products and services from their traditional telecommunications providers.

Monica Collier, IDC Research Manager, says, “New Zealander’s are now starting to enjoy the benefits of a new world of digital services. It’s a combination of the Government’s investment in fibre, which provided the much-needed high-speed infrastructure, coupled with the changes in how and what the telcos provide.”

“The telcos are turning to new ways of working, for example, Spark and Vodafone are flattening their management structures and moving to more collaborative team work approach, while network provider Chorus has a new tagline: “nothing happens if it’s not digital”, says Collier.

Collier says 2018 has been a watershed year for streaming content in New Zealand.

“Stuff Fibre launched Stuff Pix, Vodafone launched Vodafone TV, TVNZ streamed four channels of content during the Commonwealth Games, and next year, New Zealanders will stream the Rugby World Cup, courtesy of Spark. This wouldn’t be possible without our nationwide fibre connectivity and Spark’s shift to a digital services focus,” says Collier.

IDC’s retail price tracking shows that the average price of a typical unlimited fibre connection (100Mps download / 20 Mbps upload speed) has fallen to NZ$83.25 per month. Retailers, such as Spark or Vodafone, are offering free months or account credit when customers sign up. Including these deals, the average price paid falls to NZ$68.40 per month. Collier says that strong competition means “great value for the consumer.”

Collier says that fierce ongoing retail competition meant the telco industry widely expected market consolidation a year ago. Instead, telcos are now leaning towards partnerships.

“We’ve seen Vocus and Vodafone partner to unbundle fibre, while Spark, Vodafone and 2degrees formed the Rural Connectivity Group. Telcos are partnering at an infrastructure level to achieve goals with economy of scale, but are still competing at a retail level,” explains Collier.

Collier says the next two years in the telco market will be “action packed”.

“In less than a year New Zealanders will watch streamed Rugby World Cup matches, and Australian online retailer Kogan will enter the New Zealand mobile market. At the same time, Chorus and the LFCs (local fibre companies) are designing new products to let retailers put their own electronics in cabinets, known as fibre unbundling. This will let retailers, such as Vocus and Vodafone, create new products and services.”

“By 2020, New Zealanders can expect next-gen telcos to launch high-performance 5G networks in the mobile market and to offer widespread fibre unbundling in the fixed market,” says Collier.

Done well, Collier says 5G and fibre unbundling are the two key enablers that will hasten the shift away from traditional connectivity towards true digital services.

iPhone XR arrives at Spark NZ on Friday, 26 October

Spark NZ today announced it will offer iPhone XR in stores starting on Friday, 26 October.

iPhone XR integrates breakthrough technologies from iPhone XS in all-screen glass and aluminium design featuring a 6.1-inch Liquid Retina display, the most advanced LCD in a smartphone, with wide colour support and True Tone for a more natural viewing experience. iPhone XR brings the smartest and most powerful chip in a smartphone with A12 Bionic, a next-generation Neural Engine built for advanced machine learning in everything from photography to augmented reality, the TrueDepth camera system, faster Face ID, an advanced camera system that creates dramatic portraits using a single camera lens, long all-day battery life and six beautiful finishes; white, black, blue, yellow, coral and (PRODUCT)RED. This new design is splash and water resistant with a rating of IP67 and protects against everyday spills including coffee, tea and soft drinks.

Collaborating under the ice

Ian Hawes has spent 40 years diving in Antarctica to gain an understanding of how inland and coastal aquatic ecosystems work. Now, he is sharing his knowledge with Korea’s Antarctic programme.

University of Waikato Ecologist Professor Ian Hawes, and the teams he works with, study the life that lives on the sea floor, under the ice, from bacteria to starfish, soft coral to seaweed.

Over the past forty years he has noticed the way people think about Antarctica and how the scientific approach to Antarctica has changed.

“When we started out, science was largely focussed on looking at things for the first time. We didn’t necessarily understand how dynamic the Antarctic environment is. Now we can ask more specific and complex questions to increase our understanding” says Dr Hawes.

Hawes and his team are interested in how living organisms and their environment interact, and the difference between natural variability versus the environmental factors that cause change to Antarctica’s coastal ecosystem.

“Antarctica is the engine of the global climate, coastal ecosystems are the canary in the climate coalmine. They are vulnerable and are some of the first things that we anticipate will show the effects of a changing climate” says Dr Hawes.

In a joint research programme with the Korea Polar Research Institute (KOPRI), Hawes is helping to establish a series of baseline monitoring transects and an environmental monitoring station on the sea floor near the Korean Jan Bogo Station at Terra Nova Bay. The monitoring station will obtain year-round observations including temperature, light and water quality to monitor how the environment is changing.

The baseline monitoring transects are a type of census looking at the abundance of marine life located along a 25 metre line at any one time. The New Zealand team, and their Korean counterparts, will be diving to around 25 metres to set-up new transects close to the Korean research station. In future seasons they can return and re-video the marine life that lies along these lines to develop an understanding of how they are changing.

Antarctica New Zealand Acting Chief Scientific Advisor, Dr Fiona Shanhun, sees benefit in the two nations collaborating.

“International partnerships are the foundation of Antarctic research. It’s fantastic to see nations with shared scientific interests collaborating to better understand our planet,” Dr Shanhun says.

Space start-up wins entrepreneurship $100k challenge

Will Haringa, Max Arshavsky, Sebastian Wieczorek of Zenno Astronautics.

New satellite software being developed by University of Auckland students will simplify the process of sending satellites into space – and the space start-up has just received a $25,000 boost from the University’s entrepreneurship competition.

Arts and commerce student Will Haringa and engineering students Max Arshavsky and Sebastian Wieczorek founded spaceflight systems start-up ZENNO Astronautics in 2017. Their aim: to develop a propulsion system for small satellites, and a suite of software for mission planning, development and operation.

Says Haringa, who also co-founded student space club Impulse: “Satellite software is lagging behind hardware in modularity and reusability. ZENNO is developing applications which rest on our highly precise orbital mechanics simulator. Thorough orbital path knowledge allows us to better understand how much solar power is available to a satellite, its internal heat flow, and expected lifetime.”

The company is currently preparing a space debris mitigation plan for the first satellite to be launched by the University.

Arshavsky: “We look forward to acquiring flight heritage, strengthening our relationship with the New Zealand Space Agency, and facilitating space exploration nationally.”

Now they have won $25,000 in seed capital in the 2018 Velocity $100k Challenge, the annual University of Auckland competition for emerging entrepreneurs. The prize will help them release their initial software product in 2019.

Velocity is the country’s leading student-driven entrepreneurship programme. Since its inception in 2003, alumni have launched more than 120 ventures, attracted over $221 million in investment, created 600-plus jobs, and sold products and services into 37 countries.

Examples include Tectonus, whose first-of-a-kind earthquake protection systems were used in the new Nelson airport building; and Greenspot Technologies, which makes nutrient-rich alternative flours from fermented fruit and vegetable pulp that would otherwise go to waste, and this month received $1.2 million seed funding from France.

This year a record 95 teams entered the Challenge, which has a total prize pool of $100,000 and is open to University students, staff and graduates.

Velocity CEO Matt Canham says, “The talent and passion that we’ve seen from this year’s teams is truly exceptional. The Velocity community will follow these teams closely as they continue to develop their ideas; we cannot wait to see what they achieve.”

The other 2018 prize-winners were:

Runner-up: Electroclear ($15,000)
Biofouling – the build-up of biological growth on submerged surfaces, such as boat hulls – creates a headache for marinas, boaties, and marine farmers. Current solutions are ineffective, temporary, or toxic to the marine ecosystem. Electroclear is developing a permanent non-toxic solution involving ‘intelligent electronics’ to inhibit fouling organisms. Team members are Dr Christopher Walker and Patrin Illenberger (both PhD candidates at the Auckland Bioengineering Institute) and Associate Professor Iain Anderson (Engineering Science).

Social entrepreneurship: Together for Good ($5000)
Together for Good is a personalised relationship skills course that draws on the latest science to help clients de-escalate conflict, overcome biases, and have lasting, healthy relationships. Its tiered design includes online modules, one-on-one and group sessions. Team members are Holly Dixon (PhD student, Psychology) and Bradley Patten (psychometrician at the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences).

New Ventures: Avasa ($5000)
Plastic surgeons train over 3,000 hours to develop microsurgical precision. AVASA simplifies microsurgery with a novel surgical device to help surgeons perform microsurgery exponentially faster with laser precision. Team members are Dr Nandoun Abeysekera (Auckland Bioengineering Institute), Dr Hans Kim, Venuri Weber, Jörg Weber and plastic surgeon Jon Mathy.

University Research: The Surgical Canary by H2Heal ($5000)
Leaks are the number one cause of death after bowel surgery, and cost hospitals thousands of dollars to treat. The Surgical Canary is a medical device that monitors patients for leaks, and promises to make surgery safer and cheaper for the millions of people who undergo bowel surgery every year. Team members are medical student Nelle-Rose Cameron, Associate Professor Greg O’Grady (School of Medicine), Research Technician Bruce Stokes (School of Medicine), Graduate Teaching Assistant Jialin Sae-Jiw, Associate Professor Anthony Philips (Biological Sciences) and Professor David Williams (Chemical Sciences).

All teams have also won entry to VentureLab, an incubator run by the University’s Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, to further develop their ventures.

Spark partners with Team NZ to gain edge on the water

Emirates Team New Zealand and Spark announced today that Spark will be the official telecommunications and connectivity partner for the team and for the 36th America’s Cup events that will take place in Auckland in 2020-2021, incorporating the Christmas Race, the Prada Cup and the America’sCup Match.

The agreement means Spark will provide Emirates Team New Zealand with telecommunications and digital connectivity, both on and off the water, as well as exclusive rights to provide telecommunications services and connectivity within areas controlled by the organising company, America’s Cup Event Limited and Challenger of Record 36.

“We have partnered with Spark, in the belief that their expertise in data and connectivity can help give us a competitive edge, and ensure the team is always connected in all mission-critical aspects of design, testing and to put us in the best place for racing on the water,” said Emirates Team New Zealand CEO, Grant Dalton.

“As America’s Cup racing becomes more and more driven by technology innovation, the crew on the boat and the team back at the base rely on the immediate availability of real time data to get the best performance on the water. Seamless connectivity can make the difference in gaining that competitive edge. We saw that for sure in Bermuda and there’s no doubt that this will continue to be a differentiator for the racing in 2021.”

Spark’s Technology Director, Mark Beder said 5G – the latest generation of wireless technology – was arriving at a perfect time to maximise opportunities for the America’s Cup. “We want to make the 36thAmerica’s Cup an international showcase opportunity for many of the advances that will be enabled by 5G – and our partnership with both Emirates Team New Zealand and the event itself will put us in the best position to deliver to this brief.

“Beyond that, we see huge opportunities to use the 5G network to support and innovate with Emirates Team New Zealand and to support the connectivity required for the America’s Cup village in Auckland.

“Digital connectivity is what we do best, and we want to align the development of Spark’s network and services with the spirit of innovation that Emirates Team New Zealand has always shown at the America’s Cup and will no doubt be doing so again in 2021.

“Emirates Team New Zealand and Spark share a classic Kiwi mindset and heritage – we couldn’t be prouder to be supporting Grant and his team with cutting-edge connectivity.”

Spark’s new 5G Innovation Lab, which will showcase the potential of 5G and allow companies to test and develop future applications over a pre-commercial 5G network, will be based in Auckland’s Wynyard Quarter Innovation Precinct. When it opens later this year, it will be just a few hundred metres from the Emirates Team New Zealand base. The close co-location creates great opportunities to start testing in liveenvironment with real world applications from later this year.

“Connectivity and communications are key to the success of the 36th America’s Cup presented by Prada. We are pleased to welcome Spark onboard and look forward to them providing technology in the America’s Cup village in Auckland that will enhance the visitor experience and offer a valuable service to the teams challenging for the Prada Cup,” said Laurent Esquier, CEO of the Challenger of Record (COR36).