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A three-year roadmap to take Northern Ireland fintech to the next level

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Andrew Jenkins, fintech envoy for Northern Ireland, outlines FinTechNI’s strategy to bring this region to the world stage when it comes to financial technology.

Cost competitiveness, a talented workforce, renowned expertise and a collaborative business environment are the credentials often cited for Northern Ireland’s growing position as a world leader in financial technology.

In the last month alone, we have seen New York-based technology firm Agio become the latest in a string of international companies that operate within financial services to choose Northern Ireland as its location for investment.

Bringing 100 jobs and £4.5m in annual salaries to the economy, Agio joins a healthy mixture of global financial services institutions and innovative home-grown companies that conduct business here, a region with typically 40pc lower salary costs compared to our neighbours in London and Dublin.

Consider that factor alongside the thousands of graduates that enter the world of business and technology here each year, and the case for Northern Ireland over other potential fintech hubs can be closed. But there is much to be done to ensure this level of success can be sustained.

Supercharging Northern Ireland fintech

Throughout the summer, FinTechNI, the representative organisation for the sector in Northern Ireland, worked with leading advisory firm Deloitte to produce a strategy for the future of fintech in NI.

The first in-depth study of its kind for the sector, it estimates we are now worth a significant £392m per year to the local economy. Though we already rank highly in lists of the best places in the world to locate a fintech company, the report puts actions, timelines and measurable achievements in place to support this.

Our ambition is to supercharge the sector by 2024 by attracting an additional £25m in foreign direct investment, establishing more than 10 new international partnerships and taking our current total of 74 fintech companies to more than 100.

Given our understanding of Northern Ireland’s current state and knowing the strengths we currently have at our disposal, the strategy identifies six key streams of work to transform the sector and benefit the wider economy of Northern Ireland.

These will ensure fintech has an agreed governance strategy, that Northern Ireland is continually marketed as a world-class location and that collaboration with the wider UK and global ecosystems is stimulated.

The roadmap also sets out key objectives for developing talent, including both attracting skilled workers in, but also busting myths among young people to ensure fintech emerges as a reliable and attractive career prospect for the next generation.

We intend to enact improvements to the financial and business support funds available to indigenous firms with high-growth potential, while ensuring government policies and frameworks are attractive for fintechs and supportive of an agile and collaborative business environment.

While we may seem optimistic, this is a dynamic sector recognised for its industry-led innovation, supportive and collaborative community and strong track record in driving global engagement and investment. An industry that flourished in the face of a global pandemic. I have no doubt that the time for optimism is now.

By Andrew Jenkins

Andrew Jenkins is director of Belfast-headquartered tech company Arity and chair of FinTechNI, a not-for-profit industry association and the independent voice of FinTech in Northern Ireland. He also serves as the UK Treasury’s fintech envoy for Northern Ireland.

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Dyson reveals its big bet … robots | Dyson Ltd

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Dyson has signalled it is placing a “big bet” on producing robots capable of household chores by 2030, as it looks to move beyond the vacuum cleaners, fans and dryers that made its founder one of the wealthiest British businessmen.

The company, founded by billionaire Sir James Dyson, on Wednesday published photographs of robot arms being used in household settings, including cleaning furniture, a claw picking up plates, and a hand-like machine picking up a teddy bear.

While those may not sound like major achievements, robots still struggle with many actions that represent simple tasks for humans, such as grasping fragile objects or dealing with unfamiliar obstacles. Solving those and other problems could create new markets for the company.

Dyson provided pictures of of previously secret robot prototypes carrying out household chores.
Dyson’s once secret robot prototype. Photograph: Dyson

Dyson wants to build the UK’s largest robotics research centre at its Hullavington Airfield site, close to its design centre in Malmesbury, Wiltshire. However, other recruits will also be based in a London laboratory as well as in Singapore.

James Dyson, whose net worth is £23bn, according to the Sunday Times, controversially moved the company’s HQ to Singapore in early 2019 despite championing the prospects of Britain’s manufacturing industry after Brexit, which he backed prominently.

The Hullavington site had been planned as the location to develop an electric car. However, despite initially believing its car could be Dyson’s next big product, the effort was abandoned at the prototype stage because of concerns over profitability.

a robot arm picks up a teddy bear
Robots still struggle with many actions that represent simple tasks for humans, such as grasping fragile objects or dealing with unfamiliar obstacles. Photograph: Dyson

Dyson, which made revenues of £6bn and profits before various costs of £1.5bn in 2021, had said it would spend £2.75bn from 2020 to 2025 – including £600m this year – to launch new products and research technologies, including robotics and batteries.

Dyson announced at the International Conference on Robotics and Automation in Philadelphia that 2,000 people have joined it in 2022, half of which are engineers.

It said it plans to recruit a further 700 robotics engineers in fields such as computer vision, machine learning, sensors and mechatronics over the next five years.

The Dyson 360 Eye robot vacuum cleaner at a Berlin trade show in September 2014.
The Dyson 360 Eye robot vacuum cleaner at a Berlin trade show in September 2014. Photograph: Hannibal Hanschke/Reuters

Robots are widely used in controlled situations such as on factory production lines, but have yet to break into homes in any significant way beyond the niche but growing market for robotic vacuum cleaners.

Dyson has already launched several robotic vacuums in the past, although its bestsellers remain cordless handheld models.

Jake Dyson, the son of the founder who now works as the company’s chief engineer, said: “This is a ‘big bet’ on future robotic technology that will drive research across the whole of Dyson, in areas including mechanical engineering, vision systems, machine learning and energy storage.”

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Microsoft vulnerabilities down for 2021 • The Register

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Despite a record number of publicly disclosed security flaws in 2021, Microsoft managed to improve its stats, according to research from BeyondTrust.

Figures from the National Vulnerability Database (NVD) of the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) show last year broke all records for security vulnerabilities. By December, according to pentester Redscan, 18,439 were recorded. That’s an average of more than 50 flaws a day.

However just 1,212 vulnerabilities were reported in Microsoft products last year, said BeyondTrust, a 5 percent drop on the previous year. In addition, critical vulnerabilities in the software (those with a CVSS score of 9 or more) plunged 47 percent, with the drop in Windows Server specifically down 50 percent. There was bad news for Internet Explorer and Edge vulnerabilities, though: they were up 280 percent on the prior year, with 349 flaws spotted in 2021.

BeyondTrust commented that analysis had been simplified by Microsoft’s move to the Common Vulnerability Scoring System (CVSS), although an unfortunate side effect meant that security gurus can now determine the impact of administrative rights on critical vulnerabilities.

“From 2015 to 2020,” said the report, “removing admin rights could have mitigated, on average, 75 percent of critical vulnerabilities.”

It’s a very good point: keeping permissions to the bare minimum is excellent practice, although difficult to enforce.

The decline in vulnerabilities marks a change for Microsoft. In 2016, the count of vulnerabilities stood at 451, according to the report. By 2020 they had leapt to 1,268. A drop, even if only to 1,212, is a first. It’s just as well since between 2019 and 2020, there was a 48 percent rise in vulnerabilities year on year.

And the trendiest categories are…

The report also drilled into vulnerability categories. Topping the table with 326 and 588 vulnerabilities respectively were Remote Code Execution and Elevation of Privilege flaws, with the latter up from 559 in 2020. RCE was itself down in 2021 from 345 in the prior year.

Explaining the apparent explosion in Edge and Internet Explorer numbers (349 vulnerabilities up from 92 in 2020), BeyondTrust pointed to a consolidation in the browser market and a renewed focus on browser attacks as exploited plugins (such as Flash) were dropped and bug bounties made reporting vulnerabilities more financially attractive. It also pointed out that only six were critical (a record low).

The decline in Windows vulnerabilities was attributed to Microsoft’s efforts to improve the security architecture of its supported products, as was the fall in Windows Server holes. The move from security as an afterthought to something front and center is also a factor, even if it has taken a few iterations of operating systems.

That said, there were some spectacular holes in the company’s products during 2021. Last year’s Exchange Server vulnerabilities, for example, left many administrators scrambling to patch systems. 2021’s stability, from the standpoint of Microsoft’s vulnerabilities, must be considered alongside the rapid rises of previous years.

As the report authors note, simply patching the problems might not deal with the underlying issues. Removing admin rights and privileges also play a part in reducing the attack surface. ®

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Ford’s new car safety tech can automatically reduce vehicle speed

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The new Ford Geofencing Speed Limit Control system alerts a driver when the car breaks a speed limit – then slows down the vehicle.

Speed limit signs may soon be a thing of the past as Ford is now trialling connected vehicle technology that can automatically reduce a car’s speed in certain zones to improve road safety.

Up to 29pc of all road fatalities in Europe, depending on the country, are pedestrians and cyclists, according to a 2020 report by the European Transport Safety Council. Setting up speed limits in certain areas is one of the frontline measures to minimise road accidents.

Future Human

Now, US carmaker Ford is testing its new Geofencing Speed Limit Control system across two German cities, Cologne and Aachen, to see if the technology can help in making roads safer, preventing fines for drivers and improving the appearance of roadsides.

A geofence is a virtual parameter in a real-world area. It is often used by mobility companies and start-ups, such as Ireland’s Zipp Mobility, to identify and enforce low-speed zones in cities.

How does it work?

Ford’s new system uses geofencing technology to alert a driver through the dashboard when the vehicle enters an area with a designated speed limit. It then lowers the vehicle speed to match the limit automatically.

However, the driver can override the automated system and deactivate speed limit control at any time. They can also use the technology to set their own geofencing zones at speed as low as 20kmph.

“Connected vehicle technology has the proven potential to help make everyday driving easier and safer to benefit everyone, not just the person behind the wheel,” said Michael Huynh, manager of City Engagement Germany at Ford Europe.

“Geofencing can ensure speeds are reduced where – and even when – necessary to help improve safety and create a more pleasant environment.”

Ford already has in-built assistance technologies that help drivers ensure they are abiding by speed limits. However, the new geofencing speed limit control system is the first that can automatically reduce a vehicle’s speed without the driver’s intervention.

Eyes on the road

The year-long trial that runs until March 2023 is collaboration between the Ford City Engagement team, city officials in Cologne and Aachen, and Ford software engineers in Palo Alto, California.

Together with colleagues in Aachen, the Palo Alto engineers developed technology that connects the vehicle to the geofencing system for GPS tracking and data exchange.

Germany has more than 1,000 types of road signs, which can often confuse drivers and distract them from the road ahead. Geofencing technologies such as the new Ford system can help drivers stay focused.

“Our drivers should benefit from the latest technical support, including geofencing based assistant systems that enable them to keep to the speed limits and fully concentrate on the road,” said Dr Bert Schröer of AWB, a Cologne waste disposal company involved in the trial.

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