Microsoft launches a new platform for building autonomous robots

Microsoft launches a new platform for building autonomous robots

One major — and somewhat unexpected — theme at Microsoft’s Build developer conference this week is autonomous robots. After acquiring AI startup Bonsai, which specialized in reinforcement learning for autonomous systems, the company today announced the limited preview of a new Azure-based platform that is partially built on this acquisition and that will help developers train the models necessary to power these autonomous physical systems.

“Machines have been progressing on a path from being completely manual to having a fixed automated function to becoming intelligent where they can actually deal with real-world situations themselves,” said Gurdeep Pall, Microsoft vice president for Business AI. “We want to help accelerate that journey, without requiring our customers to have an army of AI experts.”

This new platform combines Microsoft’s tools for machine teaching and machine learning with simulation tools like Microsoft’s own AirSim or third-party simulators for training the models in a realistic but safe environment, and a number of the company’s IoT services and its open-source Robot Operating System.

In preparing for today’s launch, Microsoft worked with customers like Toyota Material Handling to develop an intelligent and autonomous forklift, for example, as well as Sarcos, which builds a robot for remote visual inspections that are either unreachable or too dangerous for humans. Typically, Sarcos’ robot is remotely controlled by an operator. After working with Microsoft, the company built a system that allows the robot to autonomously traverse obstacles, climb stairs and climb up metallic walls. What’s important here, though, is that there is still a human operator in the loop, but because the robot can sense its surroundings and move autonomously, operators can focus on what they are seeing instead of having to deal with the mechanics of steering the robot.

“We are looking to offload the tasks that can be automated — how does the robot climb a stair? How does it move around an obstacle? — so the operator can focus on the more important parts of the job,” said Kristi Martindale, the executive vice president and chief marketing officer for Sarcos. “The human is still there to say, ‘No you actually want to go to that obstacle over there because maybe that obstacle is a person who is hurt.’ ”

Bonsai CEO Mark Hammond echoed this: “In any sort of operation where you have a mechanical system that interacts with the physical world, you can probably make it smarter and more autonomous. But keeping people in the loop is still very desirable, and the goal is really to increase the capabilities of what those humans can do.”

Although robots are a flashy use case, Microsoft is also looking at more pedestrian use cases like cooling and heating systems that autonomously react to temperature changes.

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Myneral.me wins the TechCrunch Hackathon at VivaTech

Myneral.me wins the TechCrunch Hackathon at VivaTech

It’s been a long night at VivaTech. The building hosted a very special competition — the TechCrunch Hackathon in Paris.

Hundreds of engineers and designers got together to come up with something cool, something neat, something awesome. The only condition was that they only had 36 hours to work on their projects. Some of them were participating in our event for the first time, while others were regulars. Some of them slept on the floor in a corner, while others drank too much Red Bull.

We could all feel the excitement in the air when the 64 teams took the stage to present a one-minute demo to impress fellow coders and our judges. But only one team could take home the grand prize and €5,000. So, without further ado, meet the TechCrunch Hackathon winner.

Winner: Myneral.me

Current mining operations lack transparency and clarity in the way they are monitored. In order to understand how a material went from initial discovery in the mine to end product, a new tool is necessary to monitor operations. Myneral.me offers an all-encompassing platform for the metal and mining sector that showcases CSR to both industry partners and end users. Find out more on Myneral.me.

Runner-Up #1: Vyta

Vyta takes patient information and helps doctors understand which patient needs to be treated first. A simple tool like this could make things smoother for everyone at the emergency room and improve treatments.

Runner-Up #2: Scrub

SCRUB = SCRUM + BUGS. Easily track your errors across applications and fix them using our algorithmic suggestions and code samples. Our open-source bug tracker automagically collects all errors for you. Find out more on GitHub.

Runner-Up #3: Chiche

Finding the future upcoming brand depends on the set of data you are using to detect it. First, they do a simple quantification of the most famous brands on social medias to identify three newcomers. Second, they use Galerie Lafayette’s website as a personal shopping tool to propose customers the most adequate product within the three newcomers.


Judges

Dr. Aurélie Jean has been working for more than 10 years as a research scientist and an entrepreneur in computational sciences, applied to engineering, medicine, education, economy, finance and journalism. In the past, Aurélie worked at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and at Bloomberg. Today, Aurélie works and lives between USA and France to run In Silico Veritas, a consulting agency in analytics and computer simulations. Aurélie is an advisor at the Boston Consulting Group and an external collaborator for The Ministry of Education of France. Aurélie is also a science editorial contributor for Le Point, teaches algorithms in universities and conducts research.

Julien Meraud has a solid track record in e-commerce after serving international companies for several years, including eBay, PriceMinister and Rakuten. Before joining Doctolib, Julien was CMO of Rakuten Spain, where he improved brand online acquisition, retention, promotions and campaigns. Julien joined Doctolib at the very beginning (2014), becoming the company’s first CMO and quickly holding CPO functions additionally. At Doctolib, Julien also leads Strategy teams that are responsible for identifying and sizing Doctolib’s potential new markets. Julien has a Master’s degree in Marketing, Statistics and Economics from ENSAI and a specialized Master in Marketing Management from ESSEC Business School.

Laurent Perrin is the co-founder and CTO of Front, which is reinventing email for teams. Front serves more than 5,000 companies and has raised $79 million in venture funding from investors such as Sequoia Capital, DFJ and Uncork Capital. Prior to Front, Laurent was a senior engineer at various startups and helped design scalable real-time systems. He holds a Master’s in Computer Science from École Polytechnique and Télécom ParisTech.

Neesha Tambe is the head of Startup Battlefield, TechCrunch’s global startup launch competition. In this role she sources, recruits and vets thousands of early-stage startups per year while training and coaching top-tier startups to launch in the infamous Startup Battlefield competition. Additionally, she pioneered the concept and launched CrunchMatch, the networking program at TechCrunch events that has facilitated thousands of connections between founders, investors and the startup community at-large. Prior to her work with TechCrunch, Neesha ran the Sustainable Brands’ Innovation Open — a startup competition for shared value and sustainability-focused startups with judges from Fortune 50 companies.

Renaud Visage is the technical co-founder of San Francisco-based Eventbrite (NYSE: EB), the globally leading event technology platform that went public in September 2018. Renaud is also an angel investor, guiding founders that are solving challenging technical problems in realizing their global ambitions, and he works closely with seed VC firm Point Nine Capital as a board partner, representing the fund on the board of several of their portfolio companies. Renaud also serves on the board of ShareIT, the Paris-based tech for good acceleration program launched in collaboration with Ashoka, and is an advisor to the French impact investing fund, Ring for Good. In 2014, Renaud was included in Wired UK’s Top 100 digital influencers in Europe.

In addition to our judges, here’s the hackmaster who was the MC for the event:

Romain Dillet is a senior writer at TechCrunch. Originally from France, Romain attended EMLYON Business School, a leading French business school specialized in entrepreneurship. He covers many things, from mobile apps with great design to privacy, security, fintech, Apple, AI and complex tech achievements. He also speaks at major tech conferences. He likes pop culture more than anything in the world. He now lives in Paris when he’s not on the road. He used to live in New York and loved it.

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Google launches Jetpack Compose, an open-source, Kotlin-based UI development toolkit

Google launches Jetpack Compose, an open-source, Kotlin-based UI development toolkit

Google today announced the first preview of Jetpack Compose, a new open-source UI toolkit for Kotlin developers who want to use a reactive programming model similar to React Native and Vue.js.

Jetpack Compose is an unbundled toolkit that is part of Google’s overall Android Jetpack set of software components for Android developers, but there is no requirement to use any other Jetpack components. With Jetpack Compose, Google is essentially bringing the UI-as-code philosophy to Android development. Compose’s UI components are fully declarative and allow developers to create layouts by simply describing what the UI should look like in their code. The Compose framework will handle all the gory details of UI optimization for the developer.

Developers can mix and match the Jetpack Compose APIs and view those based on Android’s native APIs. Out of the box, Jetpack Compose also natively supports Google’s Material Design.

As part of today’s overall Jetpack update, Google also is launching a number of new Jetpack components and features. These range from support for building apps for Android for Cars and Android Auto to an Enterprise library for making it easier to integrate apps with Enterprise Mobility Management solutions and built-in benchmarking tools

The standout feature, though, is probably CameraX, a new library that allows developers to build camera-centric features and applications that gives developers access to essentially the same features as the native Android camera app.

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Google’s Flutter framework spreads its wings and goes multi-platform

Google’s Flutter framework spreads its wings and goes multi-platform

Google’s Flutter UI toolkit for cross-platform development may only be two years old, but it has quickly become the framework of choice for many developers. Until now, though, ‘cross-platform’ only referred to Android and iOS. Late last year, Google announced that it would also take flutter beyond mobile and to the web. Today, at its I/O developer conference, it’s doing exactly that with the launch of the first technical preview of Flutter for the web

Google also today announced that Flutter developers will soon be able to target macOS, Windows and Linux and that the company itself is already using the framework to power some experiences on the Google Home Hub as it looks to bring Flutter to more embedded devices, too.

“We built Flutter from the ground up to be this beautiful, fast, productive, open-source toolkit for building tailored experiences, originally for mobile,” Google’s group product manager for Flutter, Tim Sneath, told me. “The big news for this week is that we are finally opening Flutter up beyond just mobile to really lean into our broader vision for Flutter as our general-purpose, portable UI toolkit for mobile, we, embedded and desktop.”

By default, Flutter apps are written in Google’s Dart language, which can be compiled to JavaScript. In that respect, bringing Flutter to the browser seems straightforward, but getting the Flutter engine up to production quality in the browser took some engineering work. The team, Sneath noted, was especially keen on making sure that Flutter would work just as well in the browser as it does on mobile and to ensure that both the developer and user experience remain the same.

“The challenge is really how to bring it down to the client and create these rich Flutter-based experiences that can take advantage of the standards-based web,” he said. Going to the web also means addressing basic things like resizable windows, but also support for interacting with keyboards and mice.

Those same requirements also apply to the desktop, of course, where the code isn’t quite production-ready yet. Developers, however, can now start experimenting with these features. The team says that the macOS version is currently the most mature, though if you are brave enough, you can try building for Windows and Linux, too.

The team also wanted to build this in a way that there will be one Flutter code base and that there would be no need to fork the framework or the applications that developers build on top of it to support these different platforms. “Our expectation is that we will be able to deliver one framework for all of these places,” said Sneath and stressed that we’re talking about native code, even on the desktop, not a web app that pretends to be a desktop app.

Sneath showed me a demo of the New York Times puzzle app on mobile and the web and the experience was identical. That’s the ideal scenario for Flutter developers, of course.

With today’s update, Google is also introducing a few new features to the core Flutter experience. These include new widgets for iOS and Google’s Material Design, support for Dart 2.3’s UI-as-code features and more. The Flutter team also announced an ML Kit Custom Image Classifier for Flutter to help developers build image classification workflows into their apps. “You can collect training data using the phone’s camera, invite others to contribute to your datasets, trigger model training, and use trained models, all from the same app,” the team writes in today’s announcement.

Looking ahead, the team plans to introduce improved support for text selection and copy/paste, support for plugins and out-of-the box support for new technologies like Progressive Web Apps.

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Scientists Create E. Coli With Entirely Synthetic Genome

Scientists Create E. Coli With Entirely Synthetic Genome

E. coli

E. coli
Image: IDKlab (Wikimedia Commons)

Scientists created a variant of the E. coli bacteria with an entirely synthetic genome, according to a new paper.

Building and replacing the large entire genome yet was just one goal of the team from the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, UK. They hoped that the resulting bacteria would use a reduced number of possible DNA base pair combinations in order to produce the 20 amino acids. In the future, the now-obsolete sequences might be used to produce never-before-seen amino acids and proteins.

The thrust of the paper wasn’t just to rebuild a bacteria’s genetic code, but to simplify redundancies in order to have more genetic code to work with to create custom genomes. Genetic code is written in four letters: A, T, C, and G, which represent the molecules adenine, thymine, cytosine, and guanine. These nucleotides can arrange into 64 three-letter “codons,” most of which correspond to an amino acid, the building blocks of the proteins that allow life to function. All but two of the amino acids are encoded by multiple synonymous codons. The researchers wanted to see if they could rewrite the E. coli bacteria’s genome with fewer codons, like rewriting the dictionary but representing all hard “k” sounds with only the letter k, instead of sometimes using c or q as the English language does.

Producing the genome required first drafting it. The researchers designed a genome where they replaced two codons that encode the amino acid serine with synonyms, and did the same with the stop codon, which tells cellular functions when to stop reading a strand of DNA while building a protein. Then, the researchers built their DNA using the various lab techniques already employed in synthetic biology. Finally, they had to replace the bacteria’s genetic material with the synthetic DNA. They couldn’t just transfer it all over—they had to break their genome into pieces, slowly transplanting bit by bit into living bacteria until they had replaced the entire E. coli genome, according to the paper published in Nature.

The E. coli survived, though they grew slower and were longer, according to New York Times reporting. But the new E. coli cells relied on only 61, rather than 64 total codons.

It was a tour de force, one scientist told Gizmodo. “For those of us who work in synthetic genomics, it’s the headline, most exciting thing; they synthesized, built, and showed that a 4-million-base-pair synthetic genome could work,” Tom Ellis, director of the Center for Synthetic Biology at Imperial College London who reviewed the paper, told Gizmodo. “It’s more than anyone had done before.”

Science-fiction speculation aside, there are several potential uses of a synthetic genome like this. There are obvious biotechnological applications—removing the redundancies allows researchers extra codons to experiment with, potentially to develop new amino acids, proteins, and bacteria that can do new things. The codon swap is also a firewall against viruses that might try to hijack the cell, said Ellis. It’s a rapidly evolving field, and this is just one of several groups in the midst of performing these kinds of genome swaps.

The methods that the researchers used to swap the genome provide “a blueprint for future genome synthesis,” according to the paper. And next up, the researchers hope to figure out how much more they could streamline the E. coli genome, as well as what they can do with the codons that they’ve freed up.

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Underfloor heating Yes or No?

The underfloor heating is an option that is increasingly followers where every year the number of homes with this system, but are still several questions when installing. Many people wonder if the consumption is higher than the system with radiators if it can give problems in the long run, if it is expensive or cheap to install.

Today we are going to review the advantages and disadvantages of underfloor heating, and whether it should be installed or not depending on your home and the needs you may have.

What is the radiant floor?

It is as simple as a network of thin tubes that covers the entire floor of the house, under the tiles, the stage or the parquet. These tubes carry hot or cold water getting hot or cool the house, with a lot of advantages that we will see later.

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Underfloor heating

The fact that it can be used to heat or cool the house is already an advantage because walking barefoot on the cool soil when it is hot is a joy. And we no longer talk about walking on the hot ground when it’s cold. That is why it is increasingly successful, because of the incredible feeling of comfort that can not be achieved in any other way.

Advantages and disadvantages

The floor heating as a heating option has great advantages and some disadvantages that you should know, here I leave the most important.

Advantages of underfloor heating

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  • The heat is distributed evenly throughout the house. It does not happen as with radiators, which decreases the temperature as you move away.
  • The great sensation of comfort when noticing the hot ground without feeling cold for the body, since the warm air tends to rise.
  • The heat comes from below and you do not need such high temperatures to get the right thermal sensation.
  • It is the most efficient heating system because it does not need high temperatures to heat. The economic expense is much lower than the radiator system.
  • It does not occupy space and everything is hidden under the floor.

Disadvantages of underfloor heating

  • It is recommended in houses of new construction or in which the ground is being reformed since it must be lifted to install the pipes.
  • The installation cost is higher than the radiator system, although it is amortized due to lower gas or electricity costs.
  • It takes more time to heat the rooms, so it is advisable to always have it on.

Hybrid heating systems

In cold climates, it is advisable to enhance the radiant floor with boilers, solar thermal panels and heat pumps. The benefits of combining the radiant floor with other heating systems are so many that in countries such as Germany or France is the usual installation.

  • They reduce pollution by not relying on fossil fuels , such as gas to heat water or coal in electric heaters.
  • With the use of thermal solar panels and heat pumps by aerothermal, non-polluting renewable energies are used.
  • You can save both energy and economic expense.

So is it advisable to use underfloor heating? Yes, it is, because it spends less gas and electricity, it is more comfortable and cheaper.

How to decorate an office: Essential ideas

In recent times more and more people are interested in decorating offices and workspaces. Creating a pleasant and welcoming environment is one of the keys for a business to develop optimally, as it is a place where we spend many hours a day.

In today’s article, we will see good practices to decorate the office, with more friendly spaces to increase productivity and improve workflow, designing a beautiful and pleasant environment.

What we offer you here are ideas, but ideas must be materialized. And for this, it is advisable to have advice on interior design and specialized interior design since professionals are the most prepared to recommend the best options for your space in particular.

However, in addition to requesting specialized help, it is also possible to analyze some decorating tricks that interior designers use to help us understand and satisfactorily modify the space.

Determine the division of the stay

Traditionally, the offices were divided into independent offices. With the passage of time, large windows were introduced that allowed to expand the field of vision. This trend continued to evolve until today when many offices lack physical barriers to delimit the spaces of their workers.

This is a way of working that helps to establish communication flows among the staff. A fact that undoubtedly benefits the company, since it allows to implement a feedback that helps improve the development of projects.

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Location of work furniture

Once the way of dividing the spaces has been determined, it is important to pay attention to the means and materials with which the employees will work.

One possibility is to place a large table that serves as a desk for different people. It is also necessary to study with what elements they will count and try to leave enough space so that each worker can carry out their tasks comfortably.

Likewise, the chairs that will be used must be comfortable and comply with the occupational risk prevention regulations. In this regard, one of the latest trends in office seating is the use of pilates balls. These elements, in addition to helping to take care of the posture and body circulation of the users, can also be especially attractive for the decoration of the room.

Take care of the lighting

One of the maxims of decoration is to take advantage of natural light. Avoid locating furniture in front of the windows that may hinder the entry of sunlight. It is also necessary to incorporate points of artificial light that help to obtain the necessary amount of light.

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Define a decorative style

From all these considerations, a stylistic line should be marked that creates the environment that we seek for the office. In this type of spaces, one of the most popular decorations is the industrial one. It is a style with an apparent informal air highly recommended for startups offices.

Another possibility can be a modern style in which designs with straight lines prevail. This is a type of decoration that provides great visual cleansing and, therefore, helps reduce the stress generated by overloaded spaces.

Whatever the decoration was chosen, it is important to keep in mind the regulations that regulate workspaces and thus avoid any possible problem.

A little bit of you in your office

In business management, the details make the difference. One of those “little things” is to allow each member of your team to decorate their space according to their tastes and options.

Your space

A study by the Exeter University of England indicates that allowing employees to participate in the design of their offices increases the feeling of well-being by 47%; creativity, 45% and productivity up to 38%.

Privacy

One of the advice offered by the specialists is that the open offices, where there is little privacy, have not yielded results because the worker is easily distracted. The best thing is to develop cubicles or separate the spaces so that each collaborator has space and can decorate it to taste.

Natural environment

An office must have ventilation and natural lighting, this causes the body to increase the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter substance that causes a sensation of well-being.

Plants

In your office, you should not miss the plants either. There are studies that indicate that decorating the office with plants improves the attention capacity and reduces the stress level of your work team.

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Present

Your collaborators can decorate their workspace with photographs of their relatives, friends or colleagues. In addition to trophies or awards that remind them that the company values them.

Data

  • Decorating with accessories or details is not a problem until you reach an extreme. The workspace should not be impersonal, but neither should a cubicle or office be allowed to be recharged by so many objects that in the end, they become elements of distraction.
  • Another important aspect of the decoration is the comfort of the employees. This aspect, without doubt, improve productivity.
  • Try to make the furniture curved as they give more security to employees than furniture with very sharp angles that give a sense of danger.

The new unsuccessful attempt to form a government accentuates the political blockade in Sweden

The second frustrated attempt to form a government coalition in Sweden, this time led by the Social Democratic Party, has accentuated the political blockade in this Nordic country after the close general elections of a month and a half ago.

The Social Democratic leader and acting Prime Minister, Stefan Löfven, today returned the mandate given to the impossibility of finding support in the center forces, two weeks after the head of the Conservative Party, Ulf Kristersson, refused to continue probing other formations for lack of agreement.

“Right now I do not see any possibility of forming a government that can be tolerated by Parliament, everything is so blocked that we have not been able to make progress,” admitted Löfven after meeting with Parliament Speaker Andreas Norlen.

The leftist block of Löfven, whose party was the most voted, won 144 seats for 143 of the center-right Alliance and 62 of the xenophobic Democrats of Sweden (SD), with which no other political party wants to agree.

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Norlén decided, after speaking separately with the leaders of the eight parliamentary forces, not to give a new mandate and instead adopt a “more active” role, inviting from tomorrow to group meetings the parties that make up the four coalitions that see possible, excluding the SD and the Left Party.

The options are: a concentration executive of the four parties of the Alliance, social democrats and ecologists; another center with these last two, liberal and centrist; the Alliance with the greens, and a government made up of some of the center-right parties.

Norlen, who did not reveal which of those options he saw as more viable, pretends to have a better image of the state of the political discussions, although he warned that there is “no guarantee” that this initiative will be “successful”.

“There will be a time when there will have to be a vote in the House, but first I want to continue the talks,” said Norlen, who considers it “reasonable” to give the parties time in the “more complicated” parliamentary situation in Sweden for decades.

Several political leaders had urged Norlen over the course of the day to take a more active role and a vote to elect a prime minister soon be held in Parliament.

Kristersson stressed that his priority option is an executive of the entire Alliance or some of his forces, a possibility that was rejected by liberal and centrist weeks ago, who do not want to depend on SD votes.

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The extreme right-wing leader, Jimmie Åkesson, reiterated his willingness to give his votes to a government of Conservatives and Democrats -which would not reach an absolute majority either-, but “with guarantees”.

The option of a concentration executive in the German image was rejected again by Kristersson, while Löfven was more receptive today and did not want to exclude that possibility.

In the Swedish system it is not necessary to have an absolute majority in Parliament to be elected prime minister, it is enough not to have a majority against.

Norlen has four attempts to find a candidate capable of forming an Executive that is accepted by the House and, if it is not successful, new elections would be called in three months.

The Swedish electoral regulations do not include as such the figure of early elections, but they speak of extraordinary, since the ordinary legislative elections are invariably held every four years.

“My opinion is that some extraordinary elections are not current, but I do not rule out that in the end they are the only solution to a closed situation, as the last exit,” Norlen said.

Several polls released in the last week suggest that the left bloc would slightly improve its results in a new election, but without any clear majority, which would maintain the current situation of political blockade.

In the event that there was not yet a new government, it would be the acting executive of social democrats and ecologists who now leads Löfven in charge of submitting budgets before the deadline of November 15.

Tourists evacuated from hotel in Egypt after two suspicious deaths

The British travel agency Thomas Cook announced Friday the transfer of 301 tourists staying in a hotel in Hurghada, Egypt, after the death of a couple of holidaymakers, whose cause is still unknown.

British-based travel company Thomas Cook organized the evacuation of 301 vacationers from the Steigenberger Aqua Magic hotel in Egypt after the death of a couple in their 60s on Tuesday (August 21st). “The circumstances of their death are not yet established. We also received information about an unusually high number of patients among the clients. As security is our primary concern, we have made the decision to evacuate all guests from this hotel, “the company said in a statement released on Thursday night.

John, 69, and Susan Cooper, 63, were on vacation in the seaside resort on the Red Sea. According to a source close to the survey, the man felt bad on the evening of Tuesday. He died at the hotel after a doctor was called, reports Reuters. His wife, who was rushed to the hospital, died shortly afterwards.

The causes of death are still unclear. The prosecution has summoned the couple’s daughter, Kelly Ormerod, who was with them during the stay, and will perform an autopsy of the woman to clarify the elements of the investigation. But, according to the girl, who confided in the 2BR radio station, the two in her 60s “had no health problems” before going on vacation. She thinks their death may be due to a faulty air conditioning system, as The Telegraph points out .

Local officials speak more of a natural cause. “The couple was old and many drugs were found in their room, including for stress and diabetes,” said Red Sea Governor Ahmad Abdallah told AFP. According to a statement from the Office of the Governor of the Red Sea Province, the two holidaymakers would have died of a heart attack.

A couple “very close”

John and Susan Cooper were from Burnley, Lancashire County, England. The woman worked for the travel agency.

A relative has described the couple as “very, very close” to the Telegraph . “John was very talkative, he always had a funny story to tell,” he told the British daily. Kelly Ormerod, their daughter, still remains “in shock”.