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Amazon doubles down on machine learning with new U.K. development hub

Amazon has announced plans to expand its development center in Cambridge, England as the internet giant doubles down on its investment in machine learning, drones, Alexa digital, and other forms of artificial intelligence.

It’s been known that Amazon has for some time had a “top secret” lab in Cambridge, where it has been building out its Prime Air drone delivery service — in fact, it was in this very city that the company first delivered a package by drone back in December. Moving forward, Amazon will now have two sites in the famous university city, which is located about 50 miles north of London, and plans to open a new 60,000 sq. ft facility later this fall.

The new building can fit around 400 people, who will include “machine learning scientists, knowledge engineers, data scientists, mathematical modellers, speech scientists, and software engineers,” according to a press release issued by the company. However, the facility will also house current employees working on a range of Amazon devices, including the Alexa-enabled Echo, the Kindle, and the Fire tablet.

When the new facility opens, the existing base will be used primarily to develop the company’s Prime Air drone service.

“By the end of this year, we will have more than 1,500 innovation-related roles here in Britain, working on everything from machine learning and drone technology to streaming video technology and Amazon Web Services,” noted Doug Gurr, Amazon’s U.K. country manager.

Amazon has been announcing major expansion plans around the world this year. In the U.K., the company recently committed to hiring 5,000 employees across the country, and it also announced plans to grow its headcount by 55 percent in the U.S. over the next 18 months, taking its domestic employee count to 280,000.

Naturally, the U.K. government was quick to pounce on this latest news as evidence of the country’s continued success in a post-Brexit world, with minister of state for digital and culture, Matt Hancock, adding: “Amazon’s increased investment in developing cutting-edge technology in Cambridge is another vote of confidence in the U.K. as a world-leading center of invention and innovation.”

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UK drone rules will require you to take safety tests

UK drone rules will require you to take safety tests

US officials might be easing up on drone regulations, but their UK counterparts are pushing forward. The British government has instituted rules that require you to not only register any robotic aircraft weighing over 250g (0.55lbs), but to take a "safety awareness" test to prove you understand the drone code. Regulators hope that this will lead to fewer drones flying over airports and otherwise causing havoc in British skies. Not that they're taking any chances -- the UK is also planning wider use of geofencing to prevent drones from flying into dangerous airspace.

The new rules come following a study highlighting the dangers of wayward drones. A smaller drone isn't necessarily safer than its larger alternatives, for example -- many of those more compact models have exposed rotors that can do a lot of damage. A drone weighing around 400 g (0.88lbs) can crack the windscreen of a helicopter, while all but the heaviest drones will have trouble cracking the windscreen of an airliner (and then only at speeds you'd expect beyond the airport). While you might not cause as much chaos as some have feared, you could still create a disaster using a compact drone.

It's nothing new to register drones, of course, and it doesn't appear to have dampened enthusiasm in the US. The test adds a wrinkle, though: how willing are you to buy a drone if you know you'll have to take a quiz? The test likely won't slow sales too much, if at all, but it could give people one more reason to pause before buying a drone on impulse. Manufacturers appear to be in favor of the new rulebook, at any rate -- DJI tells the BBC that the UK is striving for a "reasonable" solution that balances safety with a recognition of the advantages that drones can bring to public life.

Source: Gov.uk (1), (2)