NEWS

24 August 2021

Why combine terrestrial and satellite communications?

Why combine terrestrial and satellite communications?

Darwin’s ubiquitous communications technology makes it possible to switch in an instant between 5G and satellite communications. Why is this important? In this post, we explore some of the reasons it’s worth supplementing 5G communications with satellite networks.

Darwin’s ubiquitous communications technology makes it possible to switch in an instant between 5G and satellite communications. Why is this important? In this post, we explore some of the reasons it’s worth supplementing 5G communications with satellite networks. Reducing the number of masts required 5G can use high frequencies to transmit vast quantities of data and accommodate many devices simultaneously. However, high-frequency waves can struggle to travel long distances. 4G signals can travel about sixteen kilometres, or ten miles. 5G’s range is shorter: about 300 metres, or 0.2 miles. This means that many more 5G masts are required to provide coverage to the same area. In cities, 5G masts may fit comfortably into their setting. In areas of natural beauty, though, there’s a cost to the landscape that needs to be considered. When you’re wandering the moors, you want to be able to call for help if you get lost, but you don’t necessarily want to come across a phone mast every few minutes. Is there another solution? This is where satellite communications come in. As satellites are in orbit, they can connect people on Earth without impacting on the landscape at ground level. This means that rural areas don’t necessarily need large numbers of masts in order to benefit from connectivity. By reducing the number of masts we need to connect the world, we can also save money. There are material, labour and upkeep costs involved for every 5G mast built. Of course, there are also costs involved in building satellites, launching them into space and maintaining their orbit, but fewer satellites than 5G masts are required to provide coverage over a wide area. Wider coverage With the expenses and time involved in building 5G masts, it would take a long time to bring 5G to everyone. However, people in rural or isolated areas should still be able to enjoy the benefits of connectivity. A strong connection can also be valuable even in places that aren’t technically inhabited. If someone becomes lost on a moor or mountain, they would ideally be able to connect to a communications network in order to access a map or call for help. Satellites, which can be contacted from anywhere with a clear line of sight to the sky, can provide that connectivity when terrestrial networks aren’t available. By enabling devices to switch between terrestrial and satellite networks, we can make it possible to connect to the internet or communicate with other devices from almost anywhere. Staying connected on the move Darwin’s ubiquitous communications solution can switch seamlessly from 5G to satellite, or vice versa, as soon as one type of connection becomes unavailable. This makes it possible to stay connected in a moving vehicle without service interruptions. Staying connected while travelling has many uses. It’s important for autonomous vehicles, but it could also benefit human drivers. For example, if you’re a passenger in a car, the driver may ask you to look up traffic information on your smartphone so they can take the most efficient route. In areas with patchy terrestrial coverage, this isn’t always possible. If you could switch in an instant between mobile and satellite broadband, you would be able to check the traffic situation even in areas without phone masts. A steady, reliable connection while travelling could also make it possible to run on-demand public transport in areas where a regular bus service wouldn’t recoup its costs. People could request transport to a particular place, and the driver could change the service’s route to pick up passengers going in the same direction. The service would essentially function as a multi-person taxi, taking travellers to a common destination. For more about the value of staying connected on the move, take a look at our ubiquitous communications press release. What are the problems that remain once you’ve combined 5G and satellite communications? 5G and satellite are a potent combination. 5G technology is extremely fast, without the latency created by the large distances between Earth and orbiting satellites. Satellite signals, meanwhile, can reach rural areas without the infrastructure to support 5G. In other words, 5G offers high speeds, whereas satellites offer wide coverage. Are there areas that the combination can’t reach, though? Both 5G and satellite technology are best suited for outdoor use. High-frequency 5G signals, and signals that have travelled a long distance from a satellite, can be weakened or blocked entirely by obstacles such as walls. Because of this, a blend of 5G and satellite technology is great for autonomous vehicles, or for other technologies that are primarily used outdoors. However, if you have a device that also sees a lot of use indoors, such as a mobile phone, you may sometimes need to connect to a 4G network to get a good signal. Mobile providers such as O2 are aware of this issue, so they’re still investing in 4G, rather than focusing solely on 5G at the cost of indoor coverage. Different types of network have different strengths, so it makes sense to use them for different purposes. If devices are able to switch freely between 4G, 5G and satellite networks, they’ll be able to use the best tool available at any given moment.
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10 August 2021

What’s it like to work at Darwin?

What’s it like to work at Darwin?

Like any other organisation, Darwin Innovation Group has its own culture, its own atmosphere and its own relationship with its employees. Written in collaboration with Darwin’s operations manager, Sophia Ward, here’s a look at Darwin’s employment philosophy and what it’s like to work here.

Like any other organisation, Darwin Innovation Group has its own culture, its own atmosphere and its own relationship with its employees. Written in collaboration with Darwin’s operations manager, Sophia Ward, here’s a look at Darwin’s employment philosophy and what it’s like to work here. Freedom and flexibility Darwin is a relatively hands-off, flexible employer. To an extent, we allow employees to create their own role. There are certain things they need to do, but we don’t require people to check off very specific boxes, such as ‘you must code this many lines in a day’. What we do is present our employees with goals and let them decide how they’d like to reach them. If you’re a developer, for example, we might ask you to write code that lets us do a certain thing, but you’re free to decide on how to approach that challenge. When employees have freedom to manoeuvre within the goals they’re set, their achievements can become a creative expression of their skills, rather than simply a matter of hitting every point on a checklist. Creativity is essential for any research and development company, so it’s important for our employees not to feel restricted. We want everyone who works for us to be able to find fulfilment in what they do, in a way that lets us continue innovating. We also offer flexibility in working hours and structure. Even in those distant days before the COVID-19 pandemic, we didn’t demand that employees be in the office for particular hours; we’ve never been a traditional 9-to-5 employer. If you do your best work remotely at odd hours, we want to accommodate that where we can. The pandemic has led many people to change the way they work, and to question the traditional work week. Many people have realised that they work better in a more flexible structure, and are looking for employers who will continue to let them choose their own work patterns in the future. We can offer that flexibility to our employees. Support and guidance Although Darwin values freedom and flexibility in work, we also want to make sure employees have support and guidance when they need it. One way we do this is by having a mentoring programme for new employees and graduates. If someone’s never worked before, or has never done the particular job they’ve been recruited for, they’re assigned a mentor when they come aboard. At any time, an employee can go to their mentor to talk about their work, discuss any problems they’re facing and ask for advice. In addition to making sure they know who they can contact if they need help, this system means that new employees can get to know an existing member of the organisation well. It’s possible to feel slightly disconnected from an organisation when you’re working remotely, which, as mentioned, Darwin allowed even before the COVID-19 pandemic. With a mentoring system, new employees have an anchor in the form of their mentor, who can then help introduce them to other members of the team. Although individual employees do have line managers, Darwin has a very flat management structure. Our employees are free to collaborate with each other based on who has the right skills for a task, regardless of their respective roles. These opportunities for close collaboration encourage employees to get to know and respect each other. Diversity Our team is diverse, and we think working with different perspectives helps each individual team member communicate better while also inspiring them to innovate. At the very least, we want our team to reflect the diverse society in which we operate. Though all employers have a duty not to discriminate, there can be a wide disparity between what an organisation may say or intend and what it may actually do to ensure inclusivity. At Darwin, we try to design our policies to be actively supportive of a diverse workforce and the needs each team member may have. We are proud to support our colleagues with caring responsibilities: something that has often been overlooked by employers, despite one in seven working people also being carers. So are we ‘done’ with diversity? Not at all. A lack of gender diversity is something that’s already been noted as a wider issue in the tech industry. Though Darwin does have senior female leaders, the reality is that our board and our teams are not as gender diverse as we’d like, so one of our goals is to attract more female and nonbinary talent. Diversity isn’t a fixed target or a checkbox we can mark complete. We always strive to do better, so diversity remains at the heart of our recruitment strategy. Our employee benefits and perks are also regularly reviewed to ensure they fit our team’s needs and can help attract new talent to broaden our team. For more about the importance of diversity in a professional setting, take a look at our article on the value of diversity in the workplace. Continuing professional development Even after we leave education, we continue to learn and grow over the course of our lives. As an employer, you could look for a new hire who already has every skill you might possibly need, but that may be a difficult search. Instead, it can pay off to find a person who’s dedicated and open to learning, and to help them develop new skills. We want to help our employees develop themselves, and we’re prepared to fund training that would help them in their roles. If someone thinks they could benefit from training in a particular area, we’ll listen to and consider their request. For example, we’ve sponsored project management, HR management, cybersecurity and language courses for individual employees, with positive results both for the employees and for Darwin as a company. We’re a small startup, but we want to grow rapidly and we’re always looking at what we can offer our staff, from courses and conferences to expensed refreshments at the office. Our employees are humans, and we want them to find fulfilment both at work and outside it. If any of this appeals to you, we’re hiring! Take a look at our careers page to see which vacancies are currently open. We also welcome speculative applications.
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27 July 2021

The value of diversity in the workplace

The value of diversity in the workplace

A diverse workforce is a valuable asset to any employer that wants to create resourceful, versatile and creative teams. In this post, we’re going to explain why diversity is important for innovation, and look at some ways to encourage diverse recruitment.

A diverse workforce is a valuable asset to any employer that wants to create resourceful, versatile and creative teams. In this post, we’re going to explain why diversity is important for innovation, and look at some ways to encourage diverse recruitment. Enhancing innovation with diverse teams When we talk about diversity in organisations, we’re talking about organisations employing people with a wide range of identities and experiences. An organisation that solely employed men would lack gender diversity, for example, but so would an organisation that solely employed women. It’s variety that enables innovation to thrive. If your organisation includes people from various backgrounds, with various identities, trained in various areas, they’ll have different knowledge and different strengths. When one employee lacks the knowledge for a particular situation, another will be able to compensate for it. This is why organisations form teams to work on projects. A group of people working together, pooling their different knowledge and skills, can see and achieve things that no one member of the team could manage alone. The creation of teams is, in itself, a recognition of the importance of diversity. However, if all your employees have had similar experiences, they may all look at a problem from the same angle, diluting the benefits of having a team. In a diverse organisation, your employees will be able to look at it from different angles and may see different things. An example: designing a public bathroom For a simple illustration, imagine a team designing a set of unisex bathroom stalls for a shopping centre. There are crucial elements that some people would think of immediately and some might overlook. For example, if nobody on the team has ever menstruated, there’s a chance the stalls might be designed without a bin: something that would be essential for many users. It’s also essential to have step-free toilets, outfitted for accessibility, for the benefit of wheelchair users or other people who might benefit from a grab rail. A team with varied knowledge and experiences is more likely to think of every requirement than a team that lacks that diversity. To use an analogy, if your employees all have the same knowledge and experiences, it’s a bit like gathering your entire football team into one small section of the pitch. If everyone’s around your goal, it’s going to be great for defence, but it’s going to be difficult to pass the ball down the pitch or to score. To do well, you need your players to be spread out. Respecting privacy Of course, it’s also important for employers to recognise that their employees have a right to privacy. There’s a balance that needs to be found, so we can encourage a diverse workforce without making people reveal information they’d prefer to keep to themselves. At Darwin, we send new members of our team a diversity questionnaire, which helps us identify problems such as, for example, whether there’s a gender pay gap, whether people are paid differently based on age and whether groups are underrepresented in our workforce. However, this questionnaire is optional, and employees are free to leave it blank or opt out of any of the individual questions. This lets Darwin gather a broad view of the company without putting individual employees in a difficult position. Incomplete data is still valuable, and it’s important not to lose sight of the individuals we’re working with, who may be uncomfortable exposing certain information about themselves, in our pursuit of the benefits that diversity brings. How to encourage diversity in recruitment You can harness the benefits of diversity by making your company attractive and accessible to a broad range of potential employees. One way you can do this is simply by being open about your company’s positive attitude to diversity, and by making sure your existing employees understand your values. If prospective employees feel that the culture in your company is a welcoming one, they’ll be more likely to apply. You can also widen your recruitment pool by offering remote working and flexible hours, as some companies may have discovered since early 2020. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, Darwin allowed home working, which meant we could employ a larger range of people than organisations that required people to come in to the office every day. For example, it might be difficult or impossible for single parents, carers, people with certain disabilities or people living outside the UK to reach the Darwin offices, but remote working means we can still harness their expertise. Now that the pandemic has tested the remote working capabilities of many organisations, perhaps we’ll see more varied employment opportunities for people who can’t necessarily come in to the office, and more organisations benefitting from their knowledge and experience. When you remove these physical barriers, all that matters is that a person is good at what they do.
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20 July 2021

Staying connected on the move: Darwin’s ubiquitous communications technology on the road to changing the transportation market

Staying connected on the move: Darwin’s ubiquitous communications technology on the road to changing the transportation market

Darwin Innovation Group’s ubiquitous communications technology makes it possible to switch seamlessly between 5G and satellite networks as required. In collaboration with Virgin Media O2, HISPASAT, Amazon Web Services (AWS), the UK Space Agency (UKSA) and the European Space Agency (ESA), Darwin is demonstrating this technology in a trial in Cornwall.

Darwin Innovation Group is testing its ubiquitous communications technology in Cornwall. The technology switches instantly between 5G and satellite broadband if one network becomes unavailable, allowing devices to stay connected continuously on the move. Darwin plans to make this technology publicly available in the form of a device that can be installed in vehicles on the factory line. The project is supported by Virgin Media O2, HISPASAT, AWS, AVIVA, UKSA and ESA. Darwin Innovation Group’s ubiquitous communications technology makes it possible to switch seamlessly between 5G and satellite networks as required. In collaboration with Virgin Media O2, HISPASAT, Amazon Web Services (AWS), Aviva, the UK Space Agency (UKSA) and the European Space Agency (ESA), Darwin is demonstrating this technology in a trial in Cornwall. Reliable, high-capacity broadband on the move has many uses. For example: Autonomous vehicles need to be able to process, interpret and potentially store large quantities of information from their sensors, and from other autonomous vehicles nearby, in real time. Mobile health clinics could offer on-the-spot treatment to patients who need immediate care or live in isolated areas. With a reliable internet connection, patients and paramedics can consult remotely with medical experts over video calls. On-demand shuttle services could offer public transport in rural areas where regular bus services are economically impractical. The shuttle could receive real-time requests from passengers going to a particular destination and alter its route to pick people up. Mining or agricultural machinery could be operated remotely. Delivery drivers could update online records of what has been delivered and to whom in real time, even when making deliveries in areas without terrestrial coverage. Passengers may need reliable connectivity to keep themselves entertained during a journey, particularly if they’re streaming television, playing online games or making video calls. 5G networks have an enormous capacity for transmitting information and can handle many users simultaneously. Whilst 4G provides the best coverage delivered to date, and population coverage is now very strong, some areas can struggle to get strong signal, so 5G is being rolled out to those areas that need additional capacity most. Satellites can support connectivity in areas where mobile networks are not available, as satellite broadband can be used anywhere with a clear line of sight to the sky. This means it tends to offer a good connection and ensure high network availability in the countryside, villages, parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty: places where the terrestrial network rollout is likely to take some time to reach, or where restrictions exist on the construction of new masts. Darwin’s ubiquitous communications technology makes it possible to integrate mobile and satellite connectivity seamlessly, without any loss of data or connectivity when switching between networks. This lets people benefit from both 5G’s high capacity and satellite broadband’s wide reach when travelling; if one network becomes unavailable, another can take its place instantly. The Cornwall trial will demonstrate how information can be transmitted from or received by a van equipped with this technology. The goal of this trial is to transmit real-time data to the cloud for storage and processing, including speed, temperature and air quality information, and to be able to make uninterrupted video or voice calls from inside the van. Darwin is using the AWS cloud to store and process the data. Virgin Media O2 and HISPASAT are providing the mobile and satellite connectivity. Aviva is providing insurance for the vehicle undertaking these tests as part of its five-year strategic partnership with Darwin. Cornwall was chosen for the trial because it provides a challenge. It has some gaps in mobile coverage, and it also has a landscape that presents challenges for satellite coverage, as hills or vegetation may at times mean that there’s no clear line of sight to a satellite. This means the van will need to switch between both technologies as needed. If neither terrestrial nor satellite networks are available, the telematics and air quality data the van produces will be stored on board and transmitted as soon as it’s able to connect again. Darwin hopes to make its ubiquitous communications solution available to the public in the form of a user-friendly device, which can be installed on the factory line and used without the need for specific technical knowledge. This will be produced with the help of ESA, Virgin Media O2 and HISPASAT after the results of this trial have been analysed. Rodrigo Barreto, Enterprise Architect at Darwin, said: ‘This is such a great moment for the project! After months of researching, developing, building and testing the minimum viable product, we are showing what Darwin’s mobility solution is capable of, with the beautiful scenery of Cornwall as the background. This moment builds on the successful implementation of the Virgin Media O2–Darwin SatCom Lab and wouldn’t be possible without the significant input from partners, such as Virgin Media O2 and HISPASAT, and from suppliers. A great amount of knowledge has been accumulated getting to where we are now, and this sets us on a great course for our upcoming trials with a driverless shuttle at Harwell Campus and for our next steps in our collaboration with the European Space Agency.’ Sergio Budkin, Director of Market Development at Virgin Media O2, said: ‘We are very excited to trial these technologies in a very challenging environment. We have been supporting Darwin R&D with the European Space Agency to bring this technology to market and we are very confident that it will provide UK companies with a technological advantage to reshape the way in which they create value.’ Elodie Viau, Director of Telecommunications and Integrated Applications at the European Space Agency, said: ‘The Darwin project will enable logistics to become fully digital while reducing carbon emissions. We need to get data all the time, everywhere – and, to achieve that, space must be seamlessly integrated into terrestrial 5G solutions. I am excited to see Darwin in action, proving that investment in space benefits not only the logistics industry, but also people ranging from shoppers seeking to buy a wide selection of goods at reasonable prices to patients benefiting from remote diagnosis.’ Inés Sanz, Head of Customer Engineering at HISPASAT, said: ‘We are delighted to participate in the Darwin project. For HISPASAT it is an excellent opportunity to show that satellite technology allows perfect connectivity in mobility environments, being a key element for autonomous vehicles where terrestrial coverage doesn’t exist or doesn’t have sufficient capacity. We are convinced that the satellite will play a crucial role in the extension of 5G networks.’
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13 July 2021

The experience of working with AWS

The experience of working with AWS

At Darwin, we have a team of developers creating software for use with connected and autonomous vehicles. Some of our creations are also of interest to companies that use traditional vehicles. For example, we’ve been working on efficiency-boosting fleet management software, which could save fuel and reduce emissions for companies that make frequent deliveries.

In order to create our software, we’ve been working with Amazon Web Services, or AWS. The coding we do and the software we make is stored on the AWS Cloud. In this post, we’re going to talk about what it’s like to work closely with AWS and its team, drawing on the experiences of Darwin’s CEO Milos Petrovic.

At Darwin, we have a team of developers creating software for use with connected and autonomous vehicles. Some of our creations are also of interest to companies that use traditional vehicles. For example, we’ve been working on efficiency-boosting fleet management software, which could save fuel and reduce emissions for companies that make frequent deliveries. In order to create our software, we’ve been working with Amazon Web Services, or AWS. The coding we do and the software we make is stored on the AWS Cloud. In this post, we’re going to talk about what it’s like to work closely with AWS and its team, drawing on the experiences of Darwin’s CEO Milos Petrovic. Autonomous vehicles generate huge quantities of data, which need to be transmitted in real time and stored in order to be useful. In the past, to store information on this level, a company would need its own data centres. By offering almost limitless cloud storage on a pay-as-you-go basis, AWS opens new doors for small and medium enterprises without the need for them to buy, own and maintain their own data centres and servers. In November 2020, we experimented with driving autonomous vehicles at the Darwin SatCom Lab and sending the telemetry data to AWS. We had good results, but we wanted to ask AWS for advice on how to use the service more effectively. We approached AWS directly to find out if they’d like to collaborate. They thought our work was interesting and said they’d be happy to work with us. This meant that Darwin would continue to use AWS’s services for coding, and AWS would provide Darwin with business and technical support. Darwin would also have greater access to AWS’s cutting-edge technology, including some technology that was still in beta and not yet available to the public. We worked together with the AWS IoT prototyping team for over six weeks of intensive co-development. These AWS prototyping architects were dedicated to our project; they became part of the team, and we would have video calls open for hours at a time as we coded, working together remotely. At the end of those weeks, we had a code base and a huge amount of new knowledge. Everyone involved in this collaboration was able to learn and benefit from it. Darwin gained a more intimate knowledge of AWS and of how to get the best use out of it, which will help us build other features in the future. By working directly with their customers, meanwhile, AWS can get a clearer idea of what works, where there’s room for improvement and how their services are being used. We still have regular meetings with AWS to discuss new opportunities, and we’re looking forward to working together on more projects. Amongst other things, we’ve been using AWS to develop software that allows companies to track the levels of carbon dioxide produced by their vehicles. This involves gathering emissions data in real time from vehicles, storing it on the AWS Cloud and analysing it. With this information, we can learn how much CO2 a fleet of vehicles is producing, we can inform managers of how they’re performing in relation to their green targets, and we can make suggestions for how to improve. For any company that uses many vehicles, such as supermarkets and delivery services, even small improvements to efficiency can make a substantial difference to fuel use and carbon emissions. Darwin and AWS are working together to make those improvements possible.
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