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Kids’ tech: the best children’s gadgets for summer holidays | Gadgets

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With the long school summer holiday well under way, you may need a bit of help keeping the kids entertained. From walkie-talkies and cameras to tablets, robot toys and fitness trackers, here are some of the best kid-aimed tech to keep the little (and not-so-little) ones occupied.

Robot toys

Sphero Mini – about £50

Sphero Mini robotic ball.
Sphero Mini robotic ball. Photograph: Bryan Rowe/Sphero

Lots of tech toys are fads but my longtime favourite has stood the test of time as a modern update to remote control fun. Sphero is a ball you control using a smartphone or tablet, and has hidden depths, with games and educational elements also available.

The mini Sphero ball is a lot of fun to drive around and small enough that overexuberant indoor excursions won’t result in broken furniture and scuffed-up paintwork. The Sphero Play app has games, while the Sphero Edu app is great at fostering creative learning.

Kids or big kids can learn to program, follow examples, get the robot to do all sorts of things, or go deeper and write some code for it in JavaScript. Higher-end versions such as the £190 BOLT take the educational elements to the next level, too.

Tablets

Amazon Fire 7 Kids – about £110

Amazon Fire 7 Kids edition tablet.
Amazon Fire 7 Kids edition tablet. Photograph: Amazon

If you would rather not lend your precious breakable phone or iPad to your little ones, Amazon’s practically indestructible Kids edition tablets could be just the ticket.

The cheapest and smallest Fire 7 has just been updated and is available in a range of bright-coloured cases with a pop-out stand. If your offspring do manage to break it, Amazon will replace it for free under its two-year “worry-free” guarantee.

It does all the standard tablet things such as movies, apps, games, a web browser if you want it, and parental controls to lock it, set time limits and age filters. There’s even an option restricting access to curated child-safe sites and videos but it doesn’t have access to the Google Play store, only Amazon’s app store.

The Kids edition comes with a one-year subscription to Amazon Kids+ (£3 to £7 a month afterwards), which is a curated collection of child-friendly text and audio books, movies, TV shows and educational apps.

The larger £140 Fire HD 8 and £200 Fire HD 10 are available in Kids versions, too, if you want something bigger, or Amazon’s new Kids Pro tablets start at £100 with additional features aimed at school-age children.

Alternatives include LeapFrog’s various educational tablets, which are fine for younger children, or hand-me-down or refurbished iPads (from £150) in robust cases, which can be locked down with some parental controls.

Cameras

VTech Kidizoom Duo 5.0 – about £39

VTech Kidizoom Duo 5.0 kids’ camera in pink.
VTech Kidizoom Duo 5.0 kids’ camera in pink. Photograph: VTech

Before the advent of smartphones, standalone cameras were the way we visually documented our lives, and they still can be a bit of creative fun and inspiration for kids.

The VTech Kidizoom Duo 5.0 is a “my first digital camera” of sorts made of rugged plastic and simple in operation, which VTech reckons is suitable for three- to nine-year-olds. It captures 5MP photos of reasonable quality and can shoot from the back for selfies, too, all viewable on a 2.4in screen.

The optical viewfinder helps them line up the shot, which they can transform with fun filters and effects. It even shoots video, too. The kid-centric nature of it might turn off older children but every award-winning photographer has to start somewhere before the smartphone takes over.

It needs an SD card for storage and takes four AA batteries at a time, and chews through them fast, so buy some rechargeables to help save money and the planet.

For older children, rugged and waterproof action cams could be the way to go, shooting video and photos. Budget no-brand cams cost from about £80 but secondhand or refurbished models from the big boys such as GoPro and DJI go for about £100 and on eBay and elsewhere.

Fitness trackers

Garmin Vivofit Jr 3 – from about £55

Garmin Vivofit Jr 3 Star Wars edition.
Garmin Vivofit Jr 3 Star Wars edition. Photograph: Garmin

Your child may not need any encouragement to tear about the place but if you are after a gadget to “gamify” and reward their activity – as well as giving them a smartwatch-esque gadget to play with – the Garmin Vivofit Jr 3 could be a winner for ages four and up.

Its watch-like form comes in various themes and designs, including with various Star Wars, Marvel and Disney characters, with custom watchfaces to choose from. The user-replaceable coin-cell battery lasts a year, so you don’t have to worry about charging it. Water-resistance to 50 metres means swimming should be no problem either.

It tracks steps, activity and sleep with motivational messaging. It has mini games to play once your child has hit their goals, and can all be managed from a parent’s phone or tablet, so you can keep an eye on their data. Parents can even set goals, competitions with their own activity levels, chore reminders and tasks that can earn virtual coins for them to trade for rewards with you.

It is button-operated rather than touchscreen, and the backlight doesn’t stay on long to preserve the battery.

If you are a user of Google’s Fitbit trackers yourself, then the firm’s Ace 3 (£50) means you can compete on activity, but it needs charging every seven or so days. Other cheaper adult-focused fitness trackers such as the Xiaomi Mi Smart Band 6 (about £29) may be better for older children.

Walkie-talkies

Motorola T42 Talkabout – about £35 for three

Motorola Talkabout T42 two-way radios.
Motorola Talkabout T42 two-way radios. Photograph: Motorola Solutions

Walkie-talkies are a great replacement for phones, allowing kids and big kids to keep in touch without fear of fees or smashed screens.

There are plenty of child-centric options available with various character themes but basic units usually work better. Motorola’s T42 Talkabout comes in various colours and multipacks.

They are simple to set up, with a pairing button and multiple channel selection to find a clear one. Once going, just push to talk, even over long distances. Their quoted 4km range might be a bit ambitious but they should be good for at least 500 metres in urban environments, or much further in the open air.

They take three AAA batteries each, which last about 18 hours of talking or roughly three to four days in active use, so you might need a small army of rechargeable batteries.

They have a belt clip and loop for hooking to a carabiner (metal loop) or similar, and are fairly rugged, too, so should survive being launched across a room or two.

Nestling’s camouflage walkie-talkies (about £26) are also a popular choice but there are lots of choices under £30 available on the high street.

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Google UK staff earned average of more than £385,000 each in 18 months | Google

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Google UK’s staff earned an average of more than £385,000 each in the 18 months to the end of December, as the tech company gave almost £1bn in share-based payments.

Google, which like other tech firms is looking at budget and potential job cuts as global economic conditions become tougher, reported £3.4bn in turnover and £1.1bn in pre-tax profits in the 18 months to the end of December 2021.

The company, which reported a year and a half of financial results after moving its accounting period from the end of June to December last year, paid £200m in UK corporation tax.

Google UK hired 577 staff between June 2020 and December last year, taking its total headcount to 5,701. The company employs 2,275 staff in sales and marketing roles, 2,412 in research and design and 1,014 in management and administration roles.

Google’s total staff costs hit £2.2bn in the 18-month reporting period, according to accounts filed at Companies House. The staff wage and salary bill came to £1.06bn.

The accounts show UK staff received an £829m bonanza in share-based payments, and there was £258m on social security costs and £52m in expenses relating to its defined contribution plan.

The accounts also show that Google paid £200m in UK corporation tax on its £1.1bn profits.

Like its tech peers Meta – the owner of Facebook and Instagram – and Amazon, Google is frequently the target of criticism that it does not pay enough in tax in the UK.

While the company reported £3.4bn in turnover over its 18-month reporting period, the research firm Insider Intelligence estimates that Google made almost £8.7bn in ad revenue in the UK in 2021 alone.

Google, which has its European headquarters in Ireland, where taxes are lower, reports some revenues in other jurisdictions.

“Our global effective income tax rate over the past decade has been close to 20% of our profits, in line with average statutory tax rates,” a spokesperson for Google said. “We have long supported efforts via the OECD [Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development] to update international tax rules to arrive at a system where more taxing rights are allocated to countries where products and services are consumed.”

In November, Google’s Irish subsidiary agreed to pay €218m (£183m) in back taxes to the Irish government. In 2020, Alphabet, Google’s parent company, said it would stop using a notorious tax loophole known as “the double Irish with a Dutch sandwich”.

In 2020, the UK introduced a digital services tax, which levies 2% of gross revenues, and aimed to target large digital companies that make huge revenues but report relatively small profits.

Next year, it will be replaced by a new global tax system after the OECD brokered a deal between 136 countries that will result in large multinational companies paying tax in the countries where they do business, and committing themselves to a minimum 15% corporation tax rate.

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Tesla has a bit of work to do on Optimus robot • The Register

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Tesla headlined its AI Day 2022 event on Friday with the reveal of its “Optimus” robot prototype, showing just how much work was left to do on the project.

While the demo was certainly more robotic than last year’s dancer in a onesie, the lumbering mess of cables was far from the sleek and sexy design faithful Muskites might expect from the EV maker.

CEO and founder Elon Musk said before the curtains opened: “I do want to set some expectations with respect to our Optimus robot. As you know, last year it was just a person in a robot suit, but we’ve come a long way and, you know, compared to that, it’s going to be impressive.”

But in a world accustomed to the back-flipping bots of Boston Dynamics, Optimus was less than impressive. A mechanical engineer stepped in to inform the audience that this was the first time the robot was run “without any backup support – cranes, mechanical mechanisms, no cables, nothing.”

Tesla Optimus protoype

Tesla’s ‘rough development robot’

The prototype managed to rotate its arms, then tottered to the forefront to give the audience a wave, before walking back as a screen failed to close. “This is essentially the same self-driving computer that runs in Tesla cars by the way,” an Autopilot engineer proclaimed.

The event then showed videos of the robot picking up and putting down objects, and watering plants. “What you saw … was our rough development robot using semi-off-the-shelf actuators. But … we actually have an Optimus bot with fully Tesla-designed and built actuators, battery pack, control system, everything.”

This version, which was then pushed onto the stage, was a little more “Tesla” – slimmer, neater, shinier. Only one problem: it can’t walk. “I think it will walk in a few weeks,” Musk said, “but we wanted to show you something that’s fairly close to what will go into production.”

Clumsily wheeled out by staff, it also managed a couple more waves and did the splits from the rod on which it was mounted.

“Our goal is to make a useful humanoid robot as quickly as possible,” Musk said. “We’ve also designed it using the same discipline we use in designing the car, which is to say to design a form of manufacturing such that it is possible to make the robot in high volume at low cost with higher liability.

“You’ve all seen very impressive humanoid robots demonstrations, and that’s great, but what are they missing? They’re missing a brain. They don’t have the intelligence to navigate the world by themselves. They’re also very expensive and made in low volume. Optimus is designed to be an extremely capable robot but made in very high volume – ultimately millions of units – and it’s expected to cost much less than a car, so probably less than $20,000.”

That’s one expensive Roomba.

Accepting that there was “a lot of work to be done to refine Optimus and improve it,” Musk said the aim of the event was convince more AI and mechanical engineers to join the company to bring the project “to fruition at scale” and “help millions of people.”

He then waxed lyrical about an economy where there was “not a limitation on capita,” which could then become “quasi-infinite,” implying that he hopes Tesla’s robots might one day replace humans on production lines.

“This means a future of abundance,” he said. “A future where there is no poverty, where you can have whatever you want in terms of products and services. It really is a fundamental transformation of civilization as we know it.”

As if to reference his belief that AI is humanity’s “biggest existential threat,” he added: “Obviously, we want to make sure that transformation is a positive one and safe,” claiming that Tesla’s public ownership model was the right way to achieve this.

While not quite the disasterpiece of the Cybertruck reveal, going by what was shown at the AI Day, such a utopia is still far away. ®

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Dublin proptech constructing an operating system for buildings

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The SpaceOS platform sets out to create smart workplaces as the world wises up to the future of hybrid, flexible and sustainable work.

“We believe that buildings have been failing to answer people’s needs for decades,” said Marley Fabisiewicz. “We’re making them more convenient and human-centric with technology, while feeding the property managers and real estate developers with data.”

That, in a nutshell, is what proptech start-up SpaceOS is all about. “The real estate industry is a dinosaur,” said co-CEO Fabisiewicz, whose vision is to realise its digital transformation through developing tech-enabled workspaces. “Our mission is to help companies attract, retain, inspire and empower their people by creating dynamic and digitised workplace communities.”

Headquartered in Dublin, SpaceOS offers a workplace experience platform that Fabisiewicz said “turns smartphones into remote controls for the workplace”. The name derives from the concept of creating “an operating system for buildings”.

What this involves, Fabisiewicz explained, is digitising physical assets and providing APIs to integrate existing business technologies, such as access control. “[SpaceOS] covers everything from opening doors and booking desks and rooms, to ordering food, registering guests and sending out invoices, all blended seamlessly into daily workflows,” he said.

“Because of its modular structure, SpaceOS is ready to integrate with a variety of platforms to meet the specific requirements of any workspace infrastructure. It connects all stakeholders, reduces inputs and costs, provides insights, and offers smart management tools. It provides building managers and users with transparency, cost efficiency and real-time information, while focusing on the user experience.”

‘Dynamic workspaces are shaping the future of work’
– MARLEY FABISIEWICZ

Fabisiewicz sees the platform as essential to the transformed modern workplace. “We are targeting building owners, tenants, and managers. With a high demand for spaces to fit varying needs in a modern work environment, dynamic workspaces are shaping the future of work,” he said.

“However, current building management tools were typically designed before hybrid working became mainstream. As a result, they are inflexible and lack the adaptability and technology necessary to make today’s workspaces more efficient, while reducing operating costs.”

Demand for SpaceOS could also be employee-driven, Fabisiewicz explained, as modern workers demand systems that enable flexibility, engagement and sustainable practices. Clients can use the platform to deliver push notifications for news, events or community updates, and the service also offers detail data on carbon emissions, to support net-zero initiatives.

Environmental, social, and governance (ESG) goals have been a focal point of the start-up in the past year, leading to a partnership with Germany company Aedifion, which provides a cloud-based platform to collate data on buildings’ energy consumption.

“This collaboration allows property owners and managers to offer tenants a real-time visualisation of metrics regarding their energy usage and carbon emissions. This is the basis for transparency, and a step to make everyone in the workplace become a sustainability activist, supporting the decarbonisation of buildings,” said Fabisiewicz.

“We are currently working on managing heating, ventilation and energy based on occupancy and capacity data, to decarbonise buildings even more effectively. Future integrations will also allow tenants to remote-control HVAC, blinds, lights and more, through the SpaceOS app.”

‘The landscape has changed significantly since the markets tanked’
– MARLEY FABISIEWICZ

Serial entrepreneur Fabisiewicz also founded Upnext Technologies, a software and digital product development agency focused on the fintech industry.

SpaceOS was founded in 2017 by Fabisiewicz and his co-CEO Maciej Markowski, who has a background in real estate consultancy and proptech. “He has international experience in corporate workplace and change issues, advising major corporations on their workplace research, strategy and change management,” said Fabisiewicz.

So far, the founding duo have increased revenue three times over in the past 12 months and built up a strong client portfolio. “However, we are still in the early innings of the proptech game,” said Fabisiewicz. “Market saturation for tenant experience technology is at around 5pc globally, so there’s still a massive upside potential and room to grow.”

Of course, the present-day market disruptions present a challenging environment for growth and investment. “The landscape has changed significantly since the markets tanked,” said Fabisiewicz. “12 months ago, it was all about hypergrowth. Today, it’s all about how quickly you can become profitable.”

In Dublin, however, Fabisiewicz describes the start-up ecosystem as “a continuous boom” with “more money to be deployed by investors, more founders with great ideas, and a maturing ecosystem for start-ups in general”.

In his company’s case, SpaceOS is looking for “smart money” that offers more than a cash injection. Fabisiewicz is seeking investors who “not only write a cheque, but also support in building the business”.

“I believe especially in proptech this is essential for a successful start-up,” he said.

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