UK Tech Roundup - June 2021

From future-predicting quantum computers to weed-zapping agri-robots, it’s been quite the start to UK tech’s summer.

UK Tech Roundup - June 2021

From future-predicting quantum computers to weed-zapping agri-robots, it’s been quite the start to UK tech’s summer.

The future is here, and it’s… predictable

 

UK quantum software startup Cambridge Quantum Computing (CQC) has signed a definitive agreement with US hardware producer Honeywell Quantum Solutions (HQS) to form a new quantum computing superpower. The deal will see HQS’s Honeywell System Model H, widely regarded as the best available quantum technology, meet CQC’s quantum algorithm and software platform.

 

CQC’s quantum algorithms team recently announced a ground-breaking new algorithm that makes what Forbes calls “frighteningly accurate predictions” on financial performance, climate change impacts and pandemic response scenarios, at previously impossible levels of complexity.

 

The new business entity will be led by CQC CEO Ilyas Khan and its UK headquarters will be in Cambridge, with Broomfield, Colorado, serving as its US base. Honeywell is investing $300m into the venture, in which CQC shareholders will own a 46% stake.

 

The chips are down

 

Data released in June showed the UK’s automobile sector output is suffering from the global semiconductor shortage.

 

The Society of Motor Manufacturers (SMMT) announced output of 54,962 vehicles in the month: a more than tenfold increase on May 2020’s equivalent figure, but a 52.6% decrease from 2019 and 58% below the five-year average.

 

“The recovery of car production is… massively challenged here and abroad by global supply shortages, particularly semiconductors,” said SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes.

 

Having been forced to pause production at its Castle Bromwich and Halewood plants earlier in the year, Jaguar Land Rover has just been forced into temporarily halting work at its plant in Nitra, Slovakia, where the Defender 4X4 is produced.

 

JLR chief financial officer Adrian Mardell said it could be “six, nine or 12 months” until production is fully back on the road.

 

 

Big farmer, small robot

 

British agritech start-up Small Robot Company (SRC) achieved a proof-of-concept milestone for developing robotic soil health intelligence. The technological advance offers agronomists and farmers the ability to monitor soil health accurately and at scale, allowing precision soil health improvements, increased yields and higher revenue with minimal chemical alterations.

 

SRC has already expanded testing of an AI-guided, weed-zapping robot named Dick this month, and will now commence a pilot project to test its monitoring robot, Tom, along with PES Technologies’ soil health sensor.

 

A consortium consisting of SRC, PES Technologies, NIAB-EMR, HL Hutchinson Ltd, the University of Essex and the Natural Resources Institute at the University of Greenwich, used machine learning methods to profile volatile organic compound (VOC) sensing technology at a research site in Hampshire’s Lockerley Estate.

 

SRC’s President and co-founder Sam Watson Jones said that developing soil health systems at scale is a top priority, adding that he sees the tech as “vital for food security.”

Babylon’s US listing

 

UK meditech startup Babylon Health looks set to list in the US via a merger with special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) Alkuri Global Acquisition that could value the company at $4.2bn.

 

Babylon was one of the first movers in a telehealth scene that came into its own during the pandemic. With in-person interaction heavily disincentivised, platforms like Babylon allowed patients to consult with doctors remotely.

 

Babylon’s 2020 revenue jumped 400%, from £16m in 2019 to $79m in 2020. The merger with Alkuri will see Babylon take $575m in gross proceeds, and see it listed on the Nasdaq as BBLN.

 

Babylon’s London hub currently employs 903 people in the UK according to LinkedIn, with another 270 and 152 employees in the US and Canada respectively.

Lockdown winners: online retail

 

Amazon Prime Day in June 2021 was a record year for small retailers, and the sector has enjoyed a productive lockdown in the UK and overseas.

 

The UK’s biggest online retailers saw their performance soar during the pandemic. Ocado Group’s revenue increased 32.7% from 2019 to 2020, with 2020 revenues of over £2.3bn and EBITDA 68.8% higher than the previous year’s at £73.1m. Fast fashion online retailer ASOS similarly saw its revenue explode from £2.73bn in 2019 to £3.26bn in 2020, with pre-tax profit of £142.1m.

 

According to Macrotrends data, Ocado’s total employees rose to 17,121 in 2020, a 13.05% increase from 2019, although ASOS’s headcount fell 4.4% from 4,000 to 3,824.

 

Ocado could face stiffer competition for its online groceries, however, with Tesco rolling out trials of its 60-minute Whoosh delivery service to London and Bristol in June as a direct competitor to Sainsbury’s Chop Chop service.

 

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