Rasa, the conversational artificial intelligence company, has announced a new base in Scotland after raising $26 million in new funding.

The firm also announced the hire of Adam Lopez, a noted researcher from the University of Edinburgh, who will lead a new Rasa technology hub in the Scottish capital. 

Rasa said it is "on a mission to empower all makers to create AI assistants that work for everyone" and is working with product teams at some of the world’s leading companies, such as Adobe, Deutsche Telekom, Lemonade, Airbus, Toyota, T-Mobile, BMW, UBS, and more.

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Mr Lopez is described as "an esteemed researcher from the University of Edinburgh and brings with him two decades of experience in natural language processing".

The new Rasa technology hub will be focused on research and product development, and Mr Lopez will be building out a brand new team in Edinburgh to further Rasa’s mission. 

Trade, Investment and Innovation Minister Ivan McKee said: “I’m pleased that Rasa has chosen Edinburgh for its new research and development hub.

"Rasa is a major player in artificial intelligence and a company committed to diversity.

“The City Region Deal’s Data-Driven Innovation (DDI) programme, partly funded by the Scottish Government, aims to establish Edinburgh as the data capital of Europe. We hope that the Edinburgh city region will continue to attract even more talent and investment like this to help achieve that ambition."

The firm said: "This year, we’ll start with a few full-time researchers in addition to Adam. Next year and beyond, that team will continue to grow."

Rasa is privately held, with funding from Accel, Andreessen Horowitz, Basis Set Ventures, and others. The company was founded in 2016 and has offices in San Francisco and Berlin.

“A simplistic chatbot might be easy, but a resilient, fully contextual assistant that works is not,” said Alex Weidauer, Rasa’s chief executive and co-founder. “Rasa is committed to supporting the developer in creating robust, mission-critical bot applications, through better research, investment in open source software, superior developer tools and education, and flexible on-prem or cloud deployment.” 

Rasa intends to use the funding to invest in continuing growth in their open source and other products, AI research, developer & community education, and to better serve their growing commercial customer base.

Retailer Shoe Zone has axed 20 stores and announced job losses at its head office to slash costs, as it warned the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic will last for years.

The group said 470 of its 490 shops will reopen across the UK by the end of the month, when Wales and Scotland follow the lead of England next week, after deciding to call time on an another 20 sites.

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It will also continue to review stores after reopening, as the high street looks to recover from the hammer blow of the pandemic.

Shoe Zone said it took "immediate action" after the UK was placed in lockdown in March, cutting jobs across its head office in Leicester and pausing all discretionary spend.
But shares fell 3% as the group cautioned that the retail sector will take years to recover from the crisis.

Chief executive Anthony Smith said: "Covid-19 will continue to have an unprecedented impact on the UK economy and the retail industry.

"Whilst the group has taken all possible steps to ensure that the business will survive through the crisis and continue into the future, the impact is likely to continue to be felt for several years."

Shoe Zone's half-year results showed it swung to a £2.5 million loss in the six months to April 4, against profits of £1 million a year earlier.

Sales tumbled 5.6% to £68.9 million, which it said was due to the pandemic and closure of all its shops on March 24 - with revenues having risen by 2.6% in the five months to February.

It continued to sell online throughout the lockdown, with internet sales now accounting for 17% of all sales, up from 6.5% before thanks in part to aggressive buy-one-get-one-free discounting.

Shoe Zone said it took extra charges of £1.2 million from the coronavirus crisis, after £300,000 for redundancy costs and £900,000 in write-downs on the value of its store freeholds.

A tourism industry survey has said the majority of businesses in the sector are “economically unsustainable” if the two-metre physical distancing rule remains.

The Scottish Tourism Alliance has published the findings of its latest research into the economic viability of businesses within the hospitality sector under the physical distancing rule.

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The two surveys which ran between 16-21 June focused on accommodation providers and restaurants which are two of the largest employers within the hospitality sector in Scotland.

It found 83% hotels surveyed said that their business would be financially unsustainable if they were required to trade at two metres physical distancing without any additional support beyond the next two months. This could result in there being up to 25,000 job losses from those surveyed.

It also found 69% of hotels surveyed said that they were planning to reopen in July,  11% however said they had no plans to open, and 5% are already open to key workers and those who require accommodation due to work.

It found 78% of hotels surveyed said they would lose more than 50% of turnover with 11% saying that they cannot afford to continue to stay open if physical distancing restrictions are not reduced to one metre.

It also found 87% of restaurants surveyed said they would lose more than 50% of business with 23% saying that they cannot afford to continue if physical distancing restrictions are not reduced to one metre.

 It said 85% restaurants said that their business would be financially unsustainable if they were required to trade at two metres physical distancing without any additional support beyond the next two months.

This could result in there being up to 8,900 job losses from those surveyed.

Marc Crothall, chief executive of the Scottish Tourism Alliance said; “The survey confirms that around 85% of businesses within the hotel and restaurant sectors in Scotland will stop trading if the two-metre physical distancing rule remains in place for the next two months should no further financial support be forthcoming.

"The figures reflect the many conversations we have been having with businesses across all sectors in the tourism industry for months and underline just how crucial the current review of the two-metre physical distancing rule is within the context of the health and economic crises.”

“Our tourism industry has welcomed the publication of the sector guidance for reopening and fully supports all recommended measures to ensure the safety of employees, visitors and our communities.

"However, many businesses do not plan to open again with the two-metre rule in place as it’s simply not economically viable for them to do so.

"Coupled with the expected slow recovery forecast, we expect a steady stream of job losses across the whole of Scotland over the coming weeks.

"Also, as we all know, visitors will choose where to stay based on the tourism product available in that area and are unlikely to travel to destinations that have a limited product in the form restaurants, visitor attractions and pubs.

"This will have a direct knock on effect on the current limited demand for accommodation in our destinations and the impact on our local economies and supply chain is likely to be severe.”