Over the past 12 months, Microsoft has hit the headlines across the world for helping consumers, companies and organisations.
The company has launched a range of high-profile products and worked with some big companies in the UK this year, but there is lots of news you may have missed. Here are some highlights:
At beginning of the year, the UK News Centre met Lucy Cassidy, an Advanced Practice Physiotherapist at Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton. She launched the Virtual Fracture Clinic, which helps people who have broken a bone or who have a nasty soft tissue injury to get treatment in their own home via online videos. Then, if needed, they can see a doctor who specialises in that part of the body. The whole solution uses Dynamics 365.
January also saw the announcement that a new £40 million Institute of Coding, which would teach people digital skills such as cybersecurity and artificial intelligence, would be set up in the UK.
The venture was launched by a consortium of more than 60 universities, industry experts and businesses, including Microsoft, in a bid to tackle the country’s digital skills gap.
The aim of the institute was to deliver practical digital skills to higher education students and those already in employment via industry-accredited courses at 25 traditional universities across Britain, and education providers.
At the beginning of the month, Microsoft announced it was launching the UK’s most powerful cloud services – M-Series virtual machines (VM) in Azure, which can handle very large workloads that involve a lot of data. Here’s the technical bit: the M-series supports up to 128 virtual central processing units (vCPU) and between one and four tebibytes of memory – a tebibyte is equal to 1,024 gigabytes – on a single VM. In addition to M-series, Azure also offers specific products for SAP HANA that offer up to 20 terabytes of memory – the most offered by any public cloud.
Later that month, Microsoft opened a $20 million venue in London to help the UK remain the home of technology innovation in Europe.
The Reactor, in Shoreditch, will be used to “nurture and develop start-up talent in the UK” by giving new businesses access to Microsoft partners, customers and products, UK Chief Executive Cindy Rose said.
The move was welcomed by Margot James MP, Minister for Digital and the Creative Industries, who told Rose during the launch of the two-floor space that Microsoft is “doing so much for start-ups” in the UK.
March saw the launch of Soundscape. The free app enables you to set audio beacons at familiar destinations and landmarks, and then use 3D audio cues to improve your ambient awareness as you make your way to the destination. By simply connecting a stereo headset, you can explore the outdoor world with more independence. With 3D audio, the sounds are perceived as coming from the point of interest, so the user can build a mental image of what’s around from the sounds in the environment and the Soundscape app. Rushing between classes, going for coffee with a friend or touring a new city with the family are all common experiences that could be more rewarding and cause less anxiety for nearly 300 million people with sight loss worldwide.
Microsoft’s Mixed-Reality Capture Studio filmed Sir David Attenborough so the Natural History Museum could turn him into a hologram for a new virtual reality experience.
The ground-breaking experience lets people visit parts of the London museum usually closed to the public with the world-famous broadcaster and hear him talk about the rare artefacts and objects on display, all from the comfort of their own home.
Microsoft released a survey showing that girls in the UK are much more likely to consider a career in science, technology, engineering or maths (STEM) if they have a role model who inspires them. The study, which documented the views of 11,500 young women in 12 countries across Europe, found that more than half (52%) of women aged 11-30 who looked up to either fictional or non-fictional people involved in STEM said they were interested in getting a job in the sector. Less than a third (32%) of women without a role model said the same. A fifth more UK girls said they could imagine a career in STEM if they had a role model compared with those who don’t.
Steven Woodgate, a Marketing and Communications Manager at Microsoft, stood up at the AdWeek conference in London and announced that he had dyslexia and dyspraxia. He talked about how the tools that are built in to Microsoft’s products – such as such as Dictate, Read Aloud, Eye Control, Touch, Inking and auto-subtitles – have “levelled the playing field” and helped him be more productive.
In May, Microsoft launched the Xbox Adaptive Controller, which lets people with disabilities plug in the assistive aids they already own to play games. The product allows those with limited mobility to use their own buttons, joysticks and switches to mimic a standard controller, so they can play any videogame. This allows them to choose which assistive aid will make the character jump, run or shoot, for example, without relying on pressing specific buttons on the controller that came with the Xbox. It has won numerous awards since it was released.
A new Surface Hub that can be rotated 90-degrees and attached to up to three other Hubs was also unveiled by Microsoft.
The Surface Hub 2 has been designed to help people work together and “get out of their seats, ideate, create and dynamically collaborate as a team, regardless of location”, Panos Panay, Microsoft’s Chief Product Officer, wrote in a blog post.
Unlike the original Surface Hub, which was released in 2015, the device can be rotated, so users can work on the 50.5-inch 4K+ multi-touch PixelSense Display in either landscape or portrait mode. As the cameras, speakers and microphones are built into the device, they will pivot, too.
A new Mixed Reality Accelerator that helps companies use Microsoft HoloLens to transform how they work was launched at the University of Hull in June. The venture saw some of the university’s brightest students use Microsoft’s headset, which places holograms in the real world, to solve problems for businesses. Microsoft is a partner in the programme, which will also feature computing company VISR.
A mouse that changed how people use the internet and was beloved by gamers was relaunched by Microsoft in the same month. The Classic IntelliMouse contains new technology to make tracking more accurate and still features the scroll wheel button that let people easily move down web pages, changing how users navigated the internet.
It has been released 15 years after the previous model – the Microsoft IntelliMouse Explorer 3.0 – was discontinued. The move led to some fans paying more than double the original retail price to ensure they would have one for years to come, while others stockpiled the product.
As the weather was hotting up, so was Microsoft’s product range. The company unveiled another device in July – its smallest and lightest Surface device. The two-in-one Surface Go has a 10-inch screen, is 8.3mm thin and weighs just 1.15 pounds. It also boasts nine hours of battery life and is able to run Office apps. Chief Product Officer Panos Panay wrote in a blog post: “Since my two youngest daughters have started using Surface Go, I see them watching movies, reading and drawing on it every day. It’s the perfect device for them. And for me, whether I’m at home, in the office, or on a plane, putting my Surface Pen on the screen and letting my thoughts flow is a necessary step in my creative process. It’s how I work. It’s so easy to carry Surface Go with me so I can capture those moments, instantly.”
The UK News Centre also reported on two motorbike makers who use Surface Pro devices because it’s the only device that can work as fast as they do. Bujar and Gaz Muharremi also praised the Surface’s portability as they move from designing to building in their workshop.
A new partnership between the British Heart Foundation. Microsoft, the NHS and New Signature aims to map all the defibrillators in the UK, so 999 call handlers can tell people helping a cardiac arrest patient where the nearest device is. There are 30,000 cardiac arrests outside of UK hospitals annually but fewer than one-in-10 of those survive, compared with a 25% survival rate in Norway, 21% in North Holland, and 20% in Seattle, in the US. Defibrillators are used in just 2% of out-of-hospital cardiac arrests, often because bystanders and ambulance services don’t know where the nearest device is located.
Also in August, Microsoft released a live-streaming video tool that lets staff ask their chief executives questions during presentations from anywhere in the world. CEOs can create a high-definition live event in Microsoft Stream, Teams or Yammer, invite people to join in and interact with them on mobile or desktop devices. Viewers can ask questions, raise concerns or suggest ideas using the comment section, and the CEO can respond in real-time. All messages are automatically translated into specified languages using artificial intelligence.
In September, the UK News Centre reported that a team of students in the UK created a way to turn handwritten equations into computer code, which could help maths experts solve their most complex problems. Dominik Henjes, Paul Popa and Aleksandr Jermakov came up with their algorithm during a hackathon – which used Microsoft Azure – that challenged people to use artificial intelligence and machine learning to improve lives.
Microsoft teamed up with some of the leading education organisations in the UK to create an online guide that lets people spot the gaps in their digital skills, and then points them to relevant courses. The free tool is designed to create a generation of digital leaders who will thrive in workplaces that are increasingly relying on technology.
Artificial intelligence is changing the UK so fast that nearly half of bosses believe their business model won’t exist by 2023, a Microsoft report revealed. The research – entitled Maximising the AI Opportunity – found that this country has a unique opportunity to lead the world in the development and use of AI but only if companies act quickly to embrace it.
In October, Microsoft sponsored a BBC film that takes viewers on a 3D journey through the Earth’s oceans. Oceans: Our Blue Planet goes beneath the waves to meet creatures including dolphins, whales and sharks, giving young people the opportunity deepen their understanding and knowledge of the sea.
Last month, Abbey Road Studios, the world-famous studio that was home to The Beatles and Pink Floyd, ran a hackathon using Microsoft technology to try to shape the future of music creation. The London studio’s audio technology incubator, Abbey Road RED, invited around 100 developers, technologists, designers and music producers to find new ways of capturing sound and revolutionising the engineering process. Microsoft provided artificial intelligence technology and experts for the event, which gathered feedback on how the music industry could use its cognitive services.
During the second day of Future Decoded, on November 1, Microsoft revealed it had formed a strategic partnership with Centrica. The aim was to transform the way the British Gas owner’s 12,000-strong team of engineers serve customers across the UK. Centrica employees will be provided with real time and actionable insight, ensuring customers can be kept up to date with accurate and timely information. The new system is underpinned by the latest artificial intelligence technology from the Microsoft Azure cloud platform and Microsoft 365 applications such as Power BI, Logic App, Flow and PowerApps.
Microsoft won an award for ensuring its products can be used by as many people as possible. The company took home the Technology Initiative of the Year prize at the Disability-Smart Awards in London. The event “recognises individuals and organisations around the world that have made an outstanding contribution to disabled people”.
A Scottish company is using Microsoft’s AI technology to help everyone deliver the perfect speech. Estendio has been handed an AI for Accessibility grant by the technology firm to add more features to their app, Present Pal, which aims to improve how people give presentations. The company was awarded free credits for Microsoft’s cloud computing platform, Azure.