The BETT (British Educational Training and Technology) show rolled into London for the 30th time this week, and V3 was on hand to pick through a variety of brightly coloured stands to locate some of the more notable technological developments coming to education.
We rather like this mural of questions about the future of teaching. While the computing curriculum itself will make big changes to the way our children are taught about technology, developments in classroom tech are equally impacting on the methods teachers use. Massive, open, online courses (MOOCs) are becoming increasingly prevalent and a "digitally enabled" populus on some occasions outsmart their teachers.
On the other hand, most of the equipment you'll see here costs rather a lot, so schools have to be fairly sure they want to adopt a piece of tech before they splash their limited cash.
Politicians use 3D printing as key example of the crossover between technology and education, and there was no lack of it at BETT in 2014. Several representatives from an industry were at BETT printing off colourful – albeit fairly useless – objects. The cheapest device we saw costs in excess of £1,000, but in comparison with where they were not a year or two ago this is pretty bargain basement stuff.
3D printers are a great way of teaching children about CAD software while keeping them motivated, because in the end they're going to see a finished product.
Little Bridge is an interesting software package for desktops and tablets, in essence allowing children from all over the world to communicate with each other in whatever language they are learning. We would describe it as a 21st-century pen pal platform. The software currently supports conversations in French and English, but the company is looking to expand to languages such as Mandarin. Everything is highly moderated and monitored, and the whole thing is quite charming.
There was no shortage of robotics technology present at BETT this year. It's an especially important year for these firms as many primary and secondary schools will be considering robotics platforms in order to allow their students to demonstrate their programming prowess in the real world.
Pictured above is hardware from Engino, which has an end-to-end software and hardware solution for schools. It's tailored to different skill levels, too. At its most basic, you can program your creation using the buttons mounted to its "brain". Users can head into the software and take advantage of its library of functions, or make their own.
The devices are powered by 32-bit ARM Cortex-M2 micro-controllers and have 256KB of flash memory and 64KB RAM. They also have a USB connector and seven other in/out ports to control various physical components.
Not exactly ground-breaking technology, but these little remote-control buggies are capable of recreating Top Gear's famous car football stunts with air hockey-like technology. The "hover ring" costs £120, as do the cars, but what price do you put on joyous, car-based tomfoolery?
By V3's Michael Passingham, who don't need no education
As noted by myself and numerous big-name figures in the public and private sector, the damage the PRISM spying scandal could inflict on the global economy and key industries, such as the cloud, is catastrophic. By being caught snooping not only on foreign firms, but also a number of political figures in countries that are supposedly allied with the US, the NSA seriously damaged international trust.
This was showcased to great effect in 2013 when Deutsche Telekom said it was considering re-routing all user information through German data centres and servers, in a bid to protect its customers from NSA snooping.
For this reason, I was overjoyed last week when president Barack Obama promised he was going to explain what new measures and safeguards he planned to put in place to ensure a scandal like PRISM does not reoccur.
However, come the big day when he took the stage and began outlining the new measures, my feelings towards his proposed reforms were at best mixed.
On the one hand Obama got a lot right. The US president said he would work to change the way PRISM requests could be handed to companies and increase the amount of information that the businesses involved can disclose to the public.
Specifically Obama pledged to put in place a series of fresh measures created by the attorney general, on how requests using the US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and National Security Letters can be made.
FISA and National Security Letters were used by the NSA to force numerous companies, including Google, Yahoo, Apple and Microsoft, to hand over vast amounts of customer data. The nature of the requests means the companies are not allowed to disclose what information was handed over without risk of arrests. The secret nature of the requests is one of the key reasons many people and businesses are still concerned about the safety and sovereignty of their data.
Even better, Obama also promised to make sure the public sector and general public would be represented in the approval process of data-gathering campaigns. He pledged to create a new independent, non-governmental panel of advocates to appear at the secret courts, which will approve or deny operations such as PRISM. Candidates for the new panel of advocates will be approved by congress.
All this sounds great, right? Well on one level it was...until Obama went on the offensive against PRISM critics, boldly saying the US would not apologise to groups or countries affected by PRISM.
"Many countries, including those that feigned surprise following the Snowden revelations, are trying to penetrate our networks. Our agencies will continue to gather intelligence on foreign governments' intentions. We will not apologise for doing it better," he said.
Worse still, in a move all too familiar to those that lived through the Bush era, Obama resorted to constantly mentioning 9/11 as a justification for operations such as PRISM. For me, this is serious cause for concern.
After all, Obama failed to disclose key details, such as what information, or how soon after receiving FISA requests companies will be able to reveal to their customers that they handed information to the NSA. Additionally, by vetting candidates for the new independent, non-governmental panel of advocates through congress – a body full of individuals that serve the US – it's unlikely that European businesses' concerns will be high a high priority.
As a consequence, while the new reforms have the potential to help ensure scandals such as PRISM don't reoccur, they also have the potential to be completely ineffectual; the outcome will be determined by how the US government choses to implement them. As a result, for now at least I can't see Obama's reforms winning back the trust of any concerned European business or governments.
By V3's Alastair Stevenson
Building the UK's cyber security skill base and economy has been an ongoing goal of the UK government and its Cyber Security Strategy.
As such, many were no doubt pleased when Russian advanced persistent threat-buster and protector of all things nuclear, Kaspersky Labs opened a new 200-person office in London, promising that it will play a pivotal role in its crusade to "save the world from hackers".
Company founder and cyber-doomsday prophet, Eugene Kaspersky was on hand at the London launch – attended by V3 and all the other security movers and shakers – and went so far as to list the office as one of the firm's new command centres.
"Our mission is [to] save the world - it's really simple and easy to remember," he said. "This office space will be responsible not just for Great Britain's operations, but also for Europe and a little bit of global. We're recognising London as a great place, as an international city, where its easier to find the right people for our business that can help us to protect our customers and to save the world."
However, despite his bold statement, speaking to V3, Kaspersky said it wouldn't be superhero white hats that would lead the fight in the London office, but some of the UK's "best and brightest" pencil pushers and salesmen.
"This office will mainly be responsible for the sales and marketing team. Here it will be for Britain and Europe. This is a great city as it's global and its easier to find people that can work internationally than it is in places like Moscow, Germany and France. This is one of the main reasons we moved the command centre of our European operation to London," Kaspersky said.
Confused? So were we. How can salesmen save the world? However, the UK's going through a pretty big cyber skills drought at the moment, and pretty much every company and government agency is reporting difficulty finding cyber-savvy recruits. Even the newly launched National Crime Agency recently had to recruit unskilled people for its cyber team on specialist "training" scheme contracts late last year.
As a consequence it's actually probably a good thing Kaspersky's going to stick with its tried-and-tested Russian security gurus when it comes to actually taking on the malware-makers, as Mr Kaspersky explained.
"Most of our research and development is still based in Russia because the Russian engineers are the best. We're happy with Russian engineers and we know many British companies are happy with Russian engineers as well. It's the same in Silicon Valley and Israel. Everybody wants the best and that's them," he said.
Luckily, for any aspirational British white hat, Kaspersky did confirm he's on the hunt for a new member to his elite Global Research and Analysis Team (Great), so all is not lost for wannabe UK cyber experts.
"We have our security experts team and that's very international, we have people from everywhere in there. So we are looking for UK security experts as well, but only the best of the best," he told V3.
However, to any budding cyber expert looking to get into the team, be warned, you'll have some pretty big shoes to fill. For those who don't remember Great is an award-winning team responsible for finding and dissecting numerous bits of top-end malware, including the notorious Flame, Red October and Icefog campaigns.
Jobs will be needed, though, especially if 2013 is anything to go by. Last year saw an influx of advanced threats and if current forecasts are anything to go by, things are only going to get worse in 2014.
With this in mind – while we're still a little disappointed the London office won't be doing research and development – we can't help but wish the London marketers and any Brit lucky enough to get onto Kaspersky's elite team the best of luck.
By V3's Alastair Stevenson
Just when we thought we might get some legal precedent on how wearable tech might affect driving laws, a landmark case on the topic has been thrown out of court.
Although the case in question only relates to driving in California, other law enforcement bodies and government departments were likely watching the proceedings of Glass early adopter Cecilia Abadie, who was stopped by police for speeding last October. The officer then apparently noticed her $1,500 headwear and decided to add the felony of using a television monitor while driving to her list of alleged crimes.
The case has been thrown out of court, simply because there's no proof whether Abadie's glasses were turned on at the time. She denies it, and that's all the court has to go on.
The interesting thing here is the Californian law in question, which essentially states that no screens can be used while driving, other than those which provide "information about the state of vehicle, to assist the driver to see the road ahead or adjacent to him/her or to navigate to his/her destination."
As The Frontline wrote last week, it's looking ever more likely that car manufacturers are going to embrace Glass-like tech for their own customers, providing information such as navigation information about speed and fuel.
So, in this case, there's no closure. And future cases won't be helped at all, but it may be a warning shot for Google and other would-be driving glasses manufacturers to build in mechanisms to prevent devices from being used in ways which may be considered illegal – such as watching a movie or conducting a video conference call.
It's going to be an interesting few years for wearable technology.
By V3's Michael Passingham, who wears his heart on his sleeve – also a traffic offence
LAS VEGAS: Almost all children – and if we're honest most adults – dream of having their own personal robot. But it's only recently through advances in a number of core technology areas, that this dream has begun to be even remotely possible.
Since then numerous technology companies have begun building productivity and business-friendly robots. Straight from the CES showroom, we round up the five best robots currently available.
5) 5ElementsRobotics Budgee
Despite all our technological advances, most business folk still have a number of core items they have to carry around with them. In any one day most businessmen and women will find themselves laden down with paperwork, tablets, laptops and – at times – their weekly groceries.
Luckily, robotics experts at 5ElementsRobotics have created the perfect solution with Budgee. Despite being a meagre two feet tall, Budgee can carry up to 50lbs of weight and can be set up to automatically follow its owner. Testing the little carry companion on the showroom floor we found his sensors were suitably up to the task: he managed to pick us out of the crowd and follow us like a loyal dog, removing our need to carry our heavy laptop bag and camera.
4) Ecovacs Winbot
Keeping up appearances is a constant challenge for any customer-facing company and a dirty office can ruin what would otherwise be a solid first impression, ending any chance of future business with potential customers.
Keeping the office clean is easier said than done, though, especially in glass-heavy showrooms. Until now this has meant business have been forced to spend vast amounts of money hiring professional cleaners to keep their surfaces dust and dirt free. But Ecovacs has created a solution to the problem, unveiling its shiny new Winbot cleaner. Able to stick and travel up surfaces faster than Spiderman, the dirt-tracking Winbot can automatically clean and scale even the largest of glass surfaces.
3) MantaroBot TeleMe
The life of a jet set executive is nowhere near as glamorous as most movies would have us believe. While the company chief executive may get to jet around the world in first class, sipping champagne as he goes, for most of us work travel means 11 hours of sitting in economy with a screaming child, followed by a restless night's sleep in the local Travelodge.
Looking to end this misery MatraBot has created the TeleMe Robot. Using an iPad or 10in Android tablet as its brain, TeleMe is a video-conferencing robot that not only lets business users remotely talk to overseas colleagues, it also lets them move about the office, using its four-wheel motorised body. Even better, as an added touch TeleMe also features an optional robotic arm attachment that will let executives remotely interact with their overseas colleagues without ever leaving the comfort of their own home or office – though be warned, it takes the idea of a firm handshake to a whole new level.
2) Furo Future Robot
Probably the most useful – but also the creepiest – robot we saw on the showroom floor was Furo's Future Robot. Designed for use in service industries, the Future Robot uses a Microsoft Kinect sensor to navigate its surroundings and interact with potential customers. As well as being able to display information using its attached touchscreen, the Future Robot was also able to understand audio questions and respond accordingly. Even more impressive the Kinect sensor also lets it recognise when people are trying to get its attention and automatically move towards them.
Starting out as a Kickstarter project, the Raspberry Pi-powered Rapiro robot was without a doubt the most impressive robot we saw at CES 2014. Despite being less than a foot tall, the tiny humanoid Rapiro is a seriously impressive bit of kit. Boasting 'servos' automatic correction and movement components in each of its 12 joints, the fully customisable Rapiro can be programmed to perform a variety of tasks.
The demo units we saw were able to do everything from clean a dusty keyboard, to boogie down to Bee Gees' Stayin' Alive. Add this to support for add-ons such as the Raspberry Pi camera module and we can't help but give the CES 2014 best robot award to the tiny intern replacement.
By V3's Alastair Stevenson
"Turn around where possible," your satnav says when you're doing something silly. The Department for Transport (DfT) looks to be under similar instruction with its stance on Google Glass.
In August, the DfT said that it would be "in discussion with the police to ensure that individuals do not use this technology while driving" before anyone from the department had even had the chance to try out the tech for themselves. Now, according to Sunday Times Driving supplement, they may be having a change of heart, and the possibilities are exciting.
"We have met with Google to discuss the implications of the current law for Google Glass," it is reported as saying. "Google are anxious their products do not pose a road safety risk and are currently considering options to allow the technology to be used in accordance with the law."
That's a pretty big change of heart, although it remains to be seen whether it will be legal in the UK, more importantly, the rest of the world. The state of California is currently debating the legality of Glass, for example, and we hear there are a lot of cars in that neck of the woods. Meanwhile, Nissan is developing its own '3E' glasses for in-car use.
So, assuming Glass is actually legal, what can we hope to do with it? Well, Mercedes has a few ideas. In-eye and in-ear satnav is a given, and is already in the very early stages of development. Another, less obvious use for the hardware is the displaying of a car's rear-facing parking camera to allow people with neck pain not to have to turn their heads.
At the moment, more in-depth info about your car such as fuel, mileage and speed doesn't work with Glass, but with Google having announced a partnership with firms such as Audi, Honda and General Motors, we can't imagine Android and Glass compatible cars being far away.
Sunday Times Driving reports that manufacturers are justifying the legality of Glass by saying the superimposed images displayed don't require drivers to look away from the road, similar to a windscreen-mounted satnav.
Road safety organisations want to make sure users are given ample choice as to the level of interference posed by their headwear, asking for what would in effect be a "driving mode" for headwear that connects to a smartphone.
There's certainly a line to be drawn between apps that are suitable for driving and those which are not. Playing Angry Birds on your Glass using eye and head movements, for example, would be utterly inappropriate.
We still don't know how much Google Glass is going to cost, and its uses while walking around town are questionable. In-car headwear looks like a much more exciting proposition, although whether it's anything more than a gimmick remains to be seen.
By V3's Michael Passingham, who will drive you round the bend
There were red faces at Samsung yesterday afternoon after Transformers director Michael Bay fluffed his lines at the firm's CES keynote and left the stage saying "I'm sorry". You can find the video below, but please be aware that it's eye-wateringly uncomfortable to watch.
The shot-caller for blockbuster films was going to be taking part in a Q&A session with a Samsung executive, but as off-the-cuff conversations so often go, he didn't have a lot to say. Blaming it on the teleprompter, Bay said he'd "wing it" instead, but failed to come up with the right words to describe the curved TV he was supposed to be endorsing.
Far be it from us to judge. We can't find the words to describe the Samsung TV either, although perhaps for different reasons than Bay.
Talking in front of huge crowds is a big challenge and it's clear Bay wasn't comfortable, so no blame should be imparted to him. Instead, we should perhaps blame Samsung – and the rest of the tech world – for constantly subjecting the world to pointless, unenthusiastic celebrity endorsements of products that should be able to speak for themselves. Let's not forget Desmond Tutu and Big Bird's cameos in last year's Qualcomm keynote.
Michael Bay posted this update to his blog, attempting to make amends for the gaffe: "Wow! I just embarrassed myself at CES – I was about to speak for Samsung for this awesome curved 105in UHD TV. I rarely lend my name to any products, but this one is just stellar. I got so excited to talk, that I skipped over the exec VP's intro line and then the teleprompter got lost. Then the prompter went up and down – then I walked off. I guess live shows aren't my thing."
Stay behind the camera Michael, it's clearly where you're happiest.
The New Year is barely a few days old but already the headlines are dominated by security stories of hacks and data thefts from major companies in the form of Skype and Snapchat.
For Skype, this saw its Twitter account and blogs targeted, while Snapchat had data on 4.6 million users released online in a warning to the firm about the need to take security seriously.
For firms of all shapes and sizes the fact security incidents are so immediately in the headlines for the start of the year should serve as a warning. 2013 was full of similar incidents and prove that no firm can rest on its laurels.
Indeed, while the PRISM spying scandal dominated the majority of the security agenda, it is important not to overlook stories such as the hacking of the Lakeland website as proof firms of all types face threats from cyber criminals.
The incidents prove that security is not a static area, but one where criminals and good-hearted ethical hackers are in a constant arms race to try and out do one another and find vulnerabilities to exploit them.
Firms cannot just assume that a single solution will cover everything or that a staff seminar on the things to be aware of such as phishing emails that is delivered in January will be relevant by next December, or even February for that matter.
Perhaps there is a silver lining for the industry from the incidents at Skype and Snapchat, though.
IT chiefs and those with security in their remit can use these incidents at the start of 2014 to make sure all those in charge at the company, especially those holding the purse strings, take security seriously and ensure that adequate resources are provided to help protect the firm from the risks that are present and growing all the time.
Otherwise, it could well be your firm in the headlines for all the wrong reasons.