Can artificial intelligence help you get fit?

Varun Bhanot
Image caption,Varun Bhanot was inspired by his own need to get fit and lose weight

By Katherine Latham

Technology reporter

With a great many of us now trying to lose weight as a New Year’s resolution, can artificial intelligence (AI) personal trainers replace human ones?

“I’d never set foot in a gym before,” says Varun Bhanot, the chief executive of AI fitness software firm Magic AI. “I found it too intimidating. It’s also very expensive, and inconvenient when you’ve got to travel to get there.”

When Mr Bhanot was told a few years back that he needed to lose weight or face health problems, he transformed his life with the help of a personal trainer – a human one.

But it dawned on Mr Bhanot that advice from an AI fitness chatbot, available to people in their own homes, could make a healthy lifestyle more accessible. So, in 2021, he set up Magic AI.

Its main product, the Magic Mirror, is a touch-screen mirror that also plays a video of an AI-powered trainer in human form.

“When you log in you put in all of your biometric information, and then the AI generates a personalised programme, just like a human personal trainer,” says Mr Bhanot.

The AI trainer can talk to you via loudspeakers and, using cameras to track your workout movements, it offers instant feedback and suggestions. As you progress it devises new workouts.

A woman using a Magic AI Magic Mirror
Image caption,The Magic Mirror uses AI to talk to the user

It comes as the use of AI in the global fitness and wellbeing sectors is continuing to soar. One report estimated that the market was worth $7.8bn (£6.1bn) in 2022, and forecasted that the value would to jump to $35.6bn by 2030.

The number of fitness apps that use AI is multiplying and includes Aaptiv, FitnessAI, Fitbod, Freeletics, VI Trainer, and Whoop. Meanwhile, some people are said to be simply asking popular AI chatbot ChatGPT to devise workouts for them.

The rise in AI-powered fitness apps suggests that some people feel more comfortable interacting with a computer than they do with a human. While for others it might just be about the convenience of having a fitness coach in their pocket.

But can AI really replicate the motivation that comes from human interaction? Pilates teacher and physiotherapist Esther Fox doesn’t think so.

“People want to speak to somebody they know and trust,” she says. “AI is not something I would particularly want to use.”

The way to get results, Ms Fox says, is by connecting with people. “When people feel heard and understood, they listen to you – and they do what you want,” she says. “It’s a very human experience.

“There’s a lot of emotional intelligence that goes into health and fitness that you just can’t replace with AI.”

Esther Fox
Image caption,Esther Fox says that people still respond better to a human trainer

By contrast, British sprinter and Olympic bronze medal winner Desiree Henry is one of the voices and bodies of the AI trainers that appear on the screen of the Magic AI fitness mirrors.

“Even if you’re doing a home workout alone, it feels like someone is supporting you through the session,” she says.

Mr Bhanot says that the idea is not to replace gyms, but to work alongside them, “like Netflix and cinema, food delivery and restaurants. AI offers another option for people who value flexibility and convenience”.

While most AI fitness apps are designed as a solitary pursuit, now the first gym has opened where people can exercise together, all trained by AI coaches.

In Lumin Fitness’ darkened studio space in Dallas, Texas, LED screens line the walls from where AI personal trainers guide up to 14 gym goers at a time through personalised workouts or high-intensity interval training.

Each person has their own designated station where a screen masks sensors that track both the motions of the exerciser as well as the gym’s specially built equipment, including dumbbells, medicine balls and skipping ropes.

They then get verbal feedback from the AI, via headphones.

“Sensors in the studio can watch every member of the class, monitoring form, and giving feedback on every movement,” says Brandon Bean co-founder and chief executive of Lumin fitness.

However, a human trainer is also in the room. “We’re not trying to replace the talent of the trainers,” adds Mr Bean. “We’re giving them tools to provide a better experience.”

“The coach is so important in building a community. Those in person high-fives, the smiles. There are certain things you can’t replicate.”

A fitness class at Lumin Fitness
Image caption,Lumin Fitness combines AI trainers with group classes

Physiotherapist Lucy McDonald says that “if AI is programmed properly, then I can see a huge amount of potential for it to help people to progress their exercises”.

However, she cautions that AI might not always get things right, and so people should still check with a human expert before they risk over-training or injury.

Mr Bean argues that AI fitness apps will only continue to improve. “From an industry perspective, we’re very early on,” he says. “But one of the brilliant features of AI is its ability to learn. It’s not perfect now, but as it learns over time, AI fitness will get better and better.”

Oppenheimer and the resurgence of Blu-ray and DVDs: How to stop your films and music from disappearing

In an era where many films and albums are stored in the cloud, “streaming anxiety” is making people buy more DVDs and records – as younger digital generations fear having their life histories erased.

Christopher Nolan has achieved some great feats of cinema in his career – but last November he pulled off something impressive on the smaller screen, too. Deep into the streaming era, where physical media can sometimes feel like a distant memory, the Blu-ray home video release of Nolan’s Oppenheimer – one of 2023’s biggest box office success stories – sparked a buying frenzy.

The 4K Ultra HD version of Oppenheimer sold out in its first week at major retailers, including Amazon. Universal released a statement saying they were working to replenish stock as quickly as possible. Some limited edition copies were fetching more than $200 on eBay. It was a sign that, for some people at least, nothing beats that feeling of holding a copy of something you love in your hand or seeing it on your shelf.

Perhaps it’s not that surprising. If anyone can inspire fervour over a release – in any format – it’s Nolan, and the DVD and Blu-ray release includes three hours of bonus footage. Then there’s the fact that, prior to its release, Nolan himself encouraged fans to embrace “a version you can buy and own at home and put on a shelf so no evil streaming service can come steal it from you”.

There is a danger these days that if things only exist in the streaming version, they do get taken down. They come and go – Christopher Nolan

Nolan explained his stance further in an interview with the Washington Post, saying: “There is a danger these days that if things only exist in the streaming version, they do get taken down. They come and go – as do broadcast versions of films, so my films will play on HBO or whatever, they’ll come and go. But the home video version is the thing that can always be there, so people can always access it.”

Other directors have chimed in to sing the praises of physical media. James Cameron told Variety: “The streamers are denying us any access whatsoever to certain films. And I think people are responding with their natural reaction, which is ‘I’m going to buy it, and I’m going to watch it any time I want.'”

Guillermo del Toro posted on X that “If you own a great 4K HD, Blu-ray, DVD etc etc of a film or films you love… you are the custodian of those films for generations to come.” His tweet prompted people to reply, sharing evidence of their vast DVD collections.Christopher Nolan has spoken out about the ephemerality of films in the streaming era (Credit: Getty Images)

Christopher Nolan has spoken out about the ephemerality of films in the streaming era (Credit: Getty Images)

DVDs had their heyday in the early 2000s. The biggest-selling DVD of all time, Finding Nemo, was released in 2003 and shifted 38,800,000 copies. But sales have been on a steady decline since the mid-2000s. According to CNBC, US DVD sales declined by 86% between 2006 and 2019. Figures from the Motion Picture Association (MPAA) show that the international physical home entertainment market fell 16% from 2020 to 2021, while the digital market grew by 24% – and in 2021, physical media accounted for just 8% of the US entertainment market, or $2.8bn. US retailer Best Buy is phasing out DVD sales in early 2024, while Netflix finally closed their DVD rental service in 2023.

Keeping it real

And yet, not only are there many people hanging onto their existing DVDs – there’s a committed number still buying them. “Home entertainment is resurgent globally, and the factors of influence can change each year, through new tech, pandemics, pipeline and slate,” Louise Kean-Wood from the British Association for Screen Entertainment (BASE) tells BBC Culture. “But the future of physical is important to fandom, especially for 4K and Blu-ray – collectors and film and TV fans love the ownership and event of physical.” It’s not just older generations clinging onto the past, either. According to the MPAA, it’s those aged 25 to 39 who are the most likely to watch DVDs.

There will always be fans who want to own everything they can by a favourite artist or director, but another factor is an increasing fear over how much – or rather, how little – control we have over the content we stream. With so many streaming services at our fingertips, it’s easy to assume that we can watch any film we want, any time we want, subscription depending. But there are many films that don’t seem to exist online. In the UK, you won’t find David Lynch’s seminal debut Eraserhead available to stream. In the US, one New York Times writer recently told of her difficulty in trying to watch her favourite childhood movie, Britney Spears’ Crossroads. Nineties pop fans wanting to indulge in a spot of nostalgia with Spice World will struggle to find it in the US.Eraserhead isn't currently available to stream in the UK (Credit: Getty Images)

Eraserhead isn’t currently available to stream in the UK (Credit: Getty Images)

Even films that are available could disappear at any moment, as streaming services reevaluate their content libraries or remove titles due to licensing agreements. And when you pay to purchase a digital version of a film or TV show, as opposed to renting it or watching it via a streaming subscription, you still don’t “own” it – you’ve just purchased a licence to watch it. And, of course, when everything is on the cloud, we are at the mercy of a stable internet connection.

It was a problem that the film collector Lucas Henkel kept encountering. “I realised that many of the movies I enjoy are not really available on streaming services, or they disappear frequently, so the only way to see them reliably is through physical media,” he tells BBC Culture. So Henkel decided to set up his own boutique home entertainment distribution label, Celluloid Dreams.  “As a collector myself, it has a lot to do with the desire to own something tangible,” says Henkel, explaining his own commitment to physical media. “More importantly, it guarantees access. I can pull out a 20-year old DVD and play it any day I want. No restrictions, no extra fees, no subscriptions… just insert the disc and press play. Seriously, what’s not to like about that? And no streaming service can match the quality of a presentation coming from a physical medium.”

Placing a premium

The company is starting with a focus on Italian thrillers – know as gialli – with the first title release Giuliano Carnimeo’s 1972 film The Case of the Bloody Iris. The plan is to expand to other genres in the future. “The baseline for us is that it has to be a movie we personally enjoy and that we feel deserves a larger audience.” Films will be reproduced as close to their original theatrical presentations as possible, and released in 4K UHD and Blu-ray formats. “We want to give these films the love they deserve,” says Henkel.

Celluloid Dreams will join others – most notably The Criterion Collection – who focus on curating a collection of lost classics or cult favourites and releasing them in sumptuous special editions, often with bonus material. This reflects a wider trend in sales of physical media as they shift from mass market to premium collectors’ items.

“While it’s true that physical media continues to decline as consumers embrace digital formats, we do see high-profile theatrical new releases benefiting from premium physical formats,” says Amy Jo Smith, president and CEO of DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group in the US. “4K UHD Blu-ray, which provides the highest quality home viewing in the market, experienced 20 percent growth for the full year 2022, driven by the year’s biggest titles overall, including The Batman and Top Gun: Maverick.”Big films like Top Gun: Maverick are driving sales of Blu-ray and DVDs (Credit: Scott Garfield/ Paramount Pictures)

Big films like Top Gun: Maverick are driving sales of Blu-ray and DVDs (Credit: Scott Garfield/ Paramount Pictures)

HMV’s head of film and TV, John Delaney, confirms that those buying physical discs are opting for a higher quality experience. “With Oppenheimer, over 60% of our sales came from the 4K & Blu-ray versions, with most customers wanting the more cinematic experience those formats provide at home,” he says.

This shift to a more high-end experience has already happened with vinyl, which – despite commanding steep prices – has seen a huge resurgence in recent years – so much so that in 2022 vinyl sales overtook CDs in the US for the first time since 1987. And in 2023, sales of vinyl in the UK reached their highest level since 1990. CDs – once the shiny new kid on the home entertainment block – have been slowly declining for many years. Yet there have even been glimmers that even they might be having a revival, driven partly by fans buying them from merch tables at concerts, as well as artists like Taylor Swift and BLACKPINK releasing multiple collectible editions of their albums on CD.

Your DVD collection, your book collection, what you hang on your wall, the clothes you wear, all of these things are signalling to people about your tastes, your attitudes – Professor Nick Neave

The reality is though, that most CDs and DVDs already on our shelves are now fairly worthless – even some charity shops won’t accept them anymore. So why do many of us have such a desire to hold onto them? “Possessions are incredibly important for humans and this has been the case for recorded history,” says Professor Nick Neave from the department of psychology at Northumbria University. “When people are digging up Bronze Age burial mounds, they’re finding that people have been buried with small personal items. It’s really clear that objects mean a great deal to people and they imbue them with a huge amount of emotional significance.”

The things we collect – and display to others – are an extension our personality, says Neave. “Your DVD collection, your book collection, what you hang on your wall, the clothes you wear, all of these things are signalling to people about your tastes, your attitudes, your membership of certain groups.” That desire to show off what we’re into (and hopefully impress others in the process) hasn’t gone away – hence the popularity of website Letterboxd, where users list and rate the movies they’ve seen, and the flurry of Spotify Wrapped Instagram posts every December.In the UK, sales of vinyl are now at their highest levels since 1990 (Credit: Getty Images)

In the UK, sales of vinyl are now at their highest levels since 1990 (Credit: Getty Images)

Neave, who is also the director of a hoarding research group, says our emotional attachment to objects means it can be incredibly difficult to let go of our possessions. “For most people, we surround ourselves with a certain amount of possessions that give us a sense of security, a sense of self-esteem, and yes, to show off our personality to visitors.”

The secret meaning behind the World Tree Hugging Championships

In Finland’s Halipuu Forest, a family has developed a novel way to save their fragile forest: by inviting guests in to hug the trees.

Next summer, the fifth-annual World Tree Hugging Championships will take place in Finnish Lapland. Located around 170km north of the Arctic Circle in the private Halipuu Forest, the event challenges participants to compete in three events: first, to hug as many trees as they can in a minute, with each hug lasting at least five seconds. Second, for a maximum of a minute, to offer their most dedicated hug, showing presence, intention, love and respect to one individual tree. And finally, in the freestyle round, the contestants must give their most creative hug to a tree, however they interpret it, lasting a minute. The judges decide the winner.

Quirky though it undoubtedly is, the story and purpose behind the event has a serious meaning: it was designed to help connect people with nature, and to save a family’s forest from being chopped down.

I’m walking through that forest with Riitta Raekallio-Wunderink, who created the event with her husband Steffan. It’s winter in Arctic Finland and the sun is low in the sky in the early afternoon. The tree trunks glitter with frost as it sets, causing us to pull out our torches. As we crunch along the snowy paths, reflective silver strips – the type you might wear as a cyclist on a dark night – are wrapped around tree trunks to mark out the path ahead.

People in the beginning found it ridiculous – but not necessarily in a bad way

“People in the beginning found it ridiculous,” Raekallio-Wunderink said of the championships, “but not necessarily in a bad way. As Finns, we have a tendency to do silly things, you know, and don’t take ourselves too seriously. It’s more of a tradition to do crazy stuff because you want to, especially in the countryside and in Lapland. There’s space to express yourself in these kinds of ways.”One of the events in the World Tree Hugging Championships is a hug that shows presence, intention, love and respect (Credit: Halipuu)

One of the events in the World Tree Hugging Championships is a hug that shows presence, intention, love and respect (Credit: Halipuu)

We stop often as we walk, to look at tracks in the snow, to feel the relative temperatures of the tree trunks and to look at various growths on the trees, including long dark-brown tendrils of an unusual type of lichen that only grows in very clean air. According to the Finnish Meteorological Institute, this area, close to the municipality of Kittilä, has some of the cleanest air in the world. As we walk further into the forest, it’s clear how connected Raekallio-Wunderink and her family are with it.

“My father started his lumberjack career here in the forest at the age of 12,” she said. “His family had moved from the north, from a part of Finland that was lost to Russia in the Second World War, when he was three, and they bought this forest and built a sawmill. He grew up in this forest. It was his playground; it was where his soul belonged. He knew this place inside out and it was really dear to him.”

Forestry in this part of the world is not an easy business. In a typical forestry cycle, you might harvest trees at anywhere between 40 and 150 years of age, but with a growing season that lasts just eight weeks in this part of northern Finland, it takes far longer, and requires much more husbandry to develop tall-enough trees. The moose that roam the forest eagerly nibble tender shoots in spring, while in the depths of winter, the sun doesn’t even rise for around six weeks. Trees that make it to full size are the ultimate survivors.Another challenge requires competitors to hug as many trees as they can in a minute (Credit: Eat Shoot Drive)

Another challenge requires competitors to hug as many trees as they can in a minute (Credit: Eat Shoot Drive)

“A few years ago, the forest had come to the end of this cycle,” she said. “It was time to cut it down and start again. Only my father didn’t want to. It was a feeling in his heart. He wasn’t able to look at it as just financial value because it had so much other value for him.”


You can only compete if you have won another tree-hugging championship – it’s important to protect the forest from having too many visitors – but the forest is open at other times in the year for the forest café and overnight stays.

The family started to consider how else they could keep the family business going. What other worth can you pull from a forest if you don’t extract its wood? Their thoughts drifted to offbeat ideas they’d seen elsewhere: what if they asked people to adopt trees, or even to hug them?

After walking for 15 minutes through the snow, the warm glow of a campfire shines through the trees, announcing another of their ideas: Campfire Barista, a campfire cafe. Along with Raekallio-Wunderink’s husband Steffan, we sit around the fire, toasting their home-made cloudberry and blueberry marshmallows on the flames and drinking dirty chai lattes brewed in a pot on the fire and flavoured with birch sap syrup. It’s one of the best lattes I’ve ever tasted.

A few steps from the fireplace, a fleece-lined hammock stretches between two trees, and as snow starts to fall, gently muffling the sounds around us, I climb into it and relax. The hammock is another strand to the forest preservation plan, available to guests as an Akrctic Sleepover option where guests can spend the night in hammocks in the forest. The World Tree Hugging Championships were the next step.Visitors to Halipuu can also spend the night in cocooned in a hammock in the forest (Credit: Meir Schonbrun)

Visitors to Halipuu can also spend the night in cocooned in a hammock in the forest (Credit: Meir Schonbrun)

Following Covid, the family sensed people had a massive craving for nature after so many restrictions and lockdowns globally, and they wanted to help them reconnect. Their tree-hugging contest has been so successful that its rules have been adopted by other independent tree-hugging competitions around the world – including ones in Scotland – and the winners of these other competitions go forward to compete in the Halipuu Forest.

Behind all of it – the quirkiness of the event, the forest cafe, the adoptable trees and the cosy hammock – there’s one key driver: finding new ways to get in touch with nature, and new ways to encourage people to bond with it, following the belief that you have to experience something to love it, and love it to protect it.

It’s also a good way to get under the skin of the Finnish people: in a recent survey, more than 80% of Finnish people said the forest is important to them: it’s a place they feel at home. That’s no surprise when you consider that Finland is one of the world’s most heavily forested countries, where over 70% of its landmass is forest, and, thanks to its “Everymlan’s Right” law, anyone can hike, camp and gather berries and mushrooms in a forest, regardless of who owns it.

“We offer people who come into the forest a safe way to immerse themselves in this harsh environment,” Raekallio-Wunderink said. “It’s a safe way to find the friendly face of Arctic nature – it’s quite an incredible environment. At the same time, it takes out the constant babble that people have in their heads.”Steffan and Riitta Raekallio-Wunderink came up with the idea of hugging trees to save the family forest (Credit: Olli Autonen)

Steffan and Riitta Raekallio-Wunderink came up with the idea of hugging trees to save the family forest (Credit: Olli Autonen)

Even with this support behind it, the forest continues to need protection. Though saved from the sawmill, climate change is having an impact, with fluctuating temperatures and unpredictable weather events changing age-old patterns.


The travel emissions it took to report this story were 0.40 metric tons of CO2e. Find out more about how we calculated this figure here.

“These days, it’s not unusual to have a week of -30C followed by a week of 2C, or to experience unexpectedly heavy snow loads that damage the tree branches,” Raekallio-Wunderink said. “In the summer, things get warmer and we expect to see different types of bugs, even ones that can destroy the trees, as they come further north than before.”

What makes their tree-hugging project so effective is that it’s not just about preserving the forest: the experience gives back in equal ways, just like a hug, to its visitors too.

“In a way, we do it out of selfish reasons,” said Raekallio-Wunderink. “I like to take people into the forest and see the change that happens in them. In nature, people drop their masks. They don’t have to be something. The trees don’t judge them – they just take them as they are. For me, the most joy I get is out of seeing people change through that. I don’t think there’s enough of that feeling in the world.”

BBC newsletters – find the right ones for you

Three images from left: US Congress, killer whales hunting seals, Household Division on parade in London
Image caption,From global news headlines to the latest on the Royal Family, there is a BBC newsletter for you

By Danny Boyle

Head of Newsletters

Stories of true global significance told with expert insight by an unrivalled network of correspondents around the world.

These are all hallmarks of BBC journalism – and now we are increasing the ways international readers can access this quality content at their fingertips.

We offer expertly curated email newsletters that bring the best of the BBC direct to your inbox.

And, from news to sport, our growing collection of subject areas means there is sure to be something for you.

You can get your daily fix of global news from News Briefing. For news and gossip from the Premier League, Football Extra is the newsletter for you. Royal Watch gives the inside story on the Royal Family. The latest developments in global technology are in Tech Decoded.

For the latest climate news and hopeful updates, Future Earth is the newsletter for you. And The Essential List rounds up all the best features of the week.

Some BBC newsletters are sent to readers every weekday, while others arrive weekly. What unites them is that they connect you to the BBC, give you perspectives you will not get elsewhere and help you discover articles you might otherwise have missed.

Signing up is fast and straightforward – just click the links below and enter your details. These newsletters are available to readers outside the UK. For readers in the UK, sign up to newsletters here.

I really hope you enjoy our newsletters. The number we offer is growing all the time, so keep your eyes peeled for more soon.

I am keen to hear what you, our valued readers, think – so please email me with any feedback or suggestions.

Will hotter heat pumps win over homeowners?

A worker installs a heat pump in a private home in western France on October 2, 2023
Image caption,Newer heat pumps can supply water at much hotter temperatures

By Chris Baraniuk

Technology of Business reporter

The first heat pumps Graham Hendra sold, about 15 years ago, weren’t very hot.

“To get 50C – that was quite hard,” says the former wholesaler, referring to the temperature of the water that these devices sent to radiators, known as the flow temperature.

Today’s gas combi boilers are typically designed for flow temperatures of around 50-60C.

The older heat pumps might have struggled to heat some homes adequately unless the homeowner decided to install larger radiators, for example. The increased surface area of such radiators helps transfer heat into the room.

But a new breed of heat pumps is emerging. Engineers have gradually improved the technology, meaning that heat pumps are now able to supply much higher temperatures, sometimes in excess of 70C.

A major change has been the rise of new refrigerants, including R290, or propane. This is the fluid that circulates inside a heat pump. In an air source device, the refrigerant captures warmth from the outside air, even on cold days. By compressing the slightly warmed refrigerant, the heat pump is able to increase the temperature and then transfer that heat into a property.

R290 is more environmentally friendly than older refrigerants so leaks are not as potentially damaging in climate change terms. Plus, it is up to 34% more efficient, which helps heat pumps supply higher temperatures without incurring severe efficiency losses.

Mr Hendra is now technical director at Genous, a firm that gives advice to homeowners on how to make their properties more energy efficient.

“We have a thing in our industry that I call ‘temperature anxiety’,” he says, likening it to the “range anxiety” that some consumers have about electric cars.

An employee works on an assembly line at the Intuis heat pump manufacturing plant in northern France on October 2, 2023.
Image caption,The newest heat pumps contain different refrigerants – the fluids which extract heat from the air

But the advent of hotter heat pumps means that such concerns are increasingly becoming irrelevant, he suggests.

It might take time to convince some, however. Paul Ciniglio, head of whole home retrofit at National Energy Foundation, a charity, is currently working on a project in Bicester covering more than 500 homes.

“We’re trying to get as many as a quarter of them to sign up to heat pumps but it’s proving really hard going,” he says. “There has been so much negative press.”

Some residents are sceptical the heat pumps will be hot enough, he explains, adding, “With the advent of this new refrigerant, it could be a game-changer.”

Among the firms offering R290-based heat pumps are Octopus Energy, a renewable energy company. It recently announced a heat pump called Cosy 6, which can heat water up to a maximum of 80C. In principle, homeowners could change their heating system over with little fuss, says Alex Schoch, head of flexibility. “Combi boiler out, heat pump in,” as he puts it. This could make heat pumps viable in a broader range of UK homes, which are notoriously poorly insulated in comparison with much of Europe.

Vaillant’s aroTHERM plus heat pump works in outdoor temperatures as low as -20C and can supply hot water at up to 75C, though to remain efficient it is best not to exceed 55C, according to the manufacturer.

Another company, Vattenfall, makes a heat pump that uses a different refrigerant, R744, or CO2. It can supply even higher temperatures, up to 85C. The company expects to install 300 in Europe this winter, mostly for housing associations.

And a spokesman for Daikin says that its Altherma heat pump, which uses R32 as a refrigerant, can reach 70C. The firm plans to launch a range of R290-based heat pumps in 2024.

Daniel Logue, consultant, Energy Systems Catapult
Image caption,Daniel Logue says test show the latest heat pumps are “significantly better” than their predecessors

Independent non-profit Energy Systems Catapult has, since 2020, been testing 742 heat pumps, of varying models, across different housing types in England and Scotland. Daniel Logue, consultant, says that the R290 heat pumps included in the trial have performed well.

“When averaged over the course of a year, the R290 high-temperature heat pumps were performing significantly better than the R410A heat pumps, which is a refrigerant that’s being phased out now,” he explains.

These heat pumps were consistently able to achieve a coefficient of performance (COP) of around 3. That refers to the amount of heat energy produced, in kilowatt hours (kWh), for every kWh of electricity consumed. Based on current energy tariffs, for heat pumps to be competitive with gas boilers in terms of running costs, a COP of around 3 or higher is generally desirable.

Despite R290 allowing for improved efficiencies when supplying higher temperatures, you still get the best COPs when you run your central heating as low as possible, stresses Leah Robson, co-director of Your Energy Your Way, which installs heat pumps and solar panels among other technologies.

She adds that there are some limitations with R290-based heat pumps, such as the fact that they cannot be located near to air bricks or windows at ground level, to eliminate the risk of the refrigerant, which is flammable, leaking into such areas.

Sue Beesley and her new heat pump
Image caption,Sue Beesley is fitted a heat pump to her home earlier this year

Sue Beesley, a homeowner in Cheshire, had an R290 heat pump installed a few months ago. While not strictly necessary, she took the decision to change her radiators and keep flow temperatures to no more than 45C.

That means higher efficiency for her system overall. “What I’ve got now is a house with a very even temperature all the way through,” she says. The COP, in terms of her central heating, is staying near to 4, she adds.

Britney Spears: I’ll never return to music industry

Britney Spears arrives for the premiere of Sony Pictures' "Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood" at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, California on July 22, 2019
Image caption,Spears released a duet with Elton John in the summer of 2022

By Emma Saunders

Entertainment reporter

Britney Spears has said she will “never return to the music industry” after rumours she was planning a return to the studio surfaced last week.

The pop star was responding to claims in the US media that she was lining up songwriters for a 10th studio album.

“Just so we’re clear most of the news is trash!!!” the singer wrote on Instagram.

“They keep saying I’m turning to random people to do a new album … I will never return to the music industry!!!”

Some outlets had suggested that Julia Michaels and Charlie XCX had been tapped up as collaborators.

But Spears added that she only wrote music for fun and also revealed that she had written more than 20 songs for other people over the past two years.

“I’m a ghostwriter and I honestly enjoy it that way!!!” wrote the singer, known for hits including Baby One More Time, Oops!… I Did It Again and Toxic.

The Woman in Me

The post was accompanied by Guido Reni’s Renaissance painting titled Salome Bearing the Head of St John the Baptist.

In August 2022, Spears released her first new music since being released from a conservatorship that controlled almost every aspect of her life.

Hold Me Closer – a duet with Sir Elton John – marked Spears’ return to music after a six-year hiatus.

Fans have been clamouring for her to return to music and although she has hinted before that she is wary of returning to the industry, this is the first time she has unequivocally ruled it out.

She published her memoir last year, titled The Woman in Me, which detailed life living under a conservatorship and revealed she had had a medical abortion while dating Justin Timberlake.

The artist wrote at the time: “Pushing forward in my music career is not my focus at the moment.

“It’s time for me not to be someone who other people want; it’s time to actually find myself.”

Kim Kardashian: Hollywood mobile game to shut down

Kim Kardashian: Hollywood game is seen in the App Store on an Apple iPhone, with black outer screen and an animated image of Kim Kardashian with black hair, on the screen.
Image caption,The game let people live out their A-list dreams

By Manish Pandey

BBC Newsbeat

Kim Kardashian: Hollywood, the star’s successful mobile game is shutting down almost a decade after its release.

Since 2014 players have lived out their A-list dreams by boosting their fame and climbing the social ladder.

The game also included appearances from the 43-year-old and family members Khloé Kardashian and Kris Jenner.

But in a statement to BBC Newsbeat, Kim confirmed the closure, saying she would “forever be inspired” by the game’s community.

The Keeping Up With The Kardashians star partnered with mobile gaming developer Glu to release Hollywood.

It was a free-to-play title but players could purchase in-game currency K-stars to make a mark through events, modelling and dating.

“I’m so grateful from the bottom of my heart to everyone who has loved and played Kim Kardashian: Hollywood in the past 10 years,” Kim said.

She said making the game had “meant so much” to her but it was “time to focus that energy into other passions”.

The game has been removed from Apple and Android app stores, but existing players can still use its features until 8 April.

Recent screenshots of the game show the addition of a timer counting down to its shutdown.

Hollywood overcame initial scepticism following its debut and reportedly earned more than $160m.

It was also named one of the 100 best games of the decade by gaming site Polygon, which described it as a model for “mobile games unapologetically tailored toward young women”.

BBC Newsbeat has contacted Electronic Arts (EA), which bought Glu Mobile, for further comment.

‘I can remember photographing Kylie but not what I did this morning’

Pop star Prince
Image caption,Jason Scott Tilley photographed Prince and other celebrities

By Vanessa Pearce

BBC News, West Midlands

A celebrated photographer has used his own archive to help preserve past memories and create future ones following a diagnosis of dementia.

Using his images as prompts, Jason Scott Tilley can vividly recall details of covering local and international news stories, as well as capturing celebrities and trips to India exploring his Anglo-Indian heritage.

But, he says he struggles to remember what he has done that morning.

At Christmas in 2020, the 55-year-old suffered a series of mini strokes, which had an impact on his short-term memory.

Girl with camel
Image caption,The photographer’s collection includes portraits of people he encountered on trips to India

“I had two TIAs – transient ischaemic attacks – and have been diagnosed with vascular dementia,” he said.

“My friends all take the mickey,” he joked. “They say, ‘That’s the name of one thing you can always remember'”.

Kylie Minogue
Image caption,The photographer remembers photographing Kylie Minogue, but struggles with new memories

Some basic tasks became more difficult after the strokes. He explained: “I just had to call home to ask my mum if I’d taken my tablets today.”

He described feeling “terrified” about losing the ability to develop photographs, but added that with support he has started exploring the practice again.

Image caption,He captured animal rights protesters campaigning in Baginton, Warwickshire

Arts Council England (ACE) funding has enabled him to put his archive in order, using the photographs to “help build new memories,” said friend and collaborator Dr Ben Kyneswood.

The project, with Coventry organisation Art Riot Collective (ARC), will also see him collaborate with eight other neurodiverse artists – who will respond to his photographs resulting in associated exhibitions next year.

The commission was “really important” added Mr Tilley. “It’s something I really needed to do after the diagnosis”.

The artist, whose work has been exhibited in the city, with some preserved in the Coventry and Birmingham archives, said he had been inspired to take up photography by his grandfather, Bert Scott.

Mr Scott worked for the Times of India throughout the 1930s and 40s, documenting the country as the British government devolved power resulting in partition, in 1947.

On 14 August that year, he was in place to capture an image of the moment Lord and Lady Mountbatten walked down the steps in New Delhi, ceremonially leaving India and signalling the end of the British Empire, Mr Tilley explained.

Bert Scott
Image caption,Bert Scott worked as a photographer at the Times of India before fleeing to Coventry during partition

Mr Scott and his wife Dolly were forced to flee the country in the wake of partition, along with their two daughters, eventually settling in Coventry.

“I grew up looking towards my grandpa’s photographic albums when I was really young and that’s what inspired me to make photographic memories for the future,” Mr Tilley said.

The photographer learned his trade firstly on a Youth Training Scheme (YTS), before he moved on to work with local newspapers the Coventry Citizen and Coventry Evening Telegraph.

Elton John
Image caption,Elton John is pictured at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham, in 1989

He went on to work for national media outlets, often photographing visiting bands and celebrities.

“I remember photographing Elton John on his 50th birthday, as well as Prince and James Brown,” he said.

“I can remember Kylie at a hotel in Birmingham, but I sometimes don’t remember 30 seconds ago,” added Mr Tilley.

“I also photographed Desmond Dekker for an album cover with The Specials, and another cover for The Selecter”.

Desmond Dekker and The Specials
Image caption,An image of Desmond Dekker and The Specials was used as an album cover

He was also one of the first photographers to capture images of children found dumped in Romanian orphanages and hospitals, following the fall of the country’s communist leader Nicolai Ceausescu.

“That was really horrible,” he explained. “Not all the memories I’ve retained are good ones.”

He has been helped to produce a timeline of his most prominent memories by Kyla Craig, director of ARC, an organisation that works to support disabled and neurodiverse artists.

Recall was easy with Mr Tilley’s memories from long ago, she explained. “Whereas, we have to do more shoring up of new things and new information.”

“We have done our most to make sure that those new memories are reinforced, and what should happen over time is they become embedded,” she added.

Image caption,The photographer captured images of local residents as part of the Imagine Hillfields project for Photo Miners

Dr Kyneswood, of Coventry University, and Mr Tilley’s collaborator in Community Interest Company Photo Miners, helped enable the funding of the project.

He said Mr Tilley had taken some “valuable” documentary photographs, which are also being digitised and uploaded onto the university’s Coventry Digital site.

Jason Scott Tilley
Image caption,Through working on the project, Mr Tilley has been able to “get a bit of his swagger back”, Dr Ben Kyneswood said

The project enabled the photographer to “get a bit of his swagger back, a bit of his artistic self-importance, which is nice to see,” Dr Kyneswood said.

He added he hoped the project could be part of a movement for “marginalised artists like Jason”, who often “stayed quiet, because the opportunities aren’t there”.

ACE said it is trying to create opportunities for disabled and neurodiverse artists through its Let’s Create programme, supporting organisations like Art Riot Collective.

BBC Sound Of 2024: How embracing chaos made Olivia Dean a breakout star

Olivia Dean
Image caption,Olivia Dean takes second place in BBC Radio 1’s prestigious Sound Of 2024 list

By Mark Savage

BBC Music Correspondent

Olivia Dean forced herself to embrace chaos.

By nature, the 24-year-old Brit School graduate is a perfectionist. Her guiding principle: “If you don’t love it, don’t do it.”

As an aspiring musician, that approach paid off.

Her throwback pop-soul sound and pillowy, jazz-toned vocals were so compelling that she sold out a European tour, gained two million Spotify followers and became a Chanel ambassador before she’d even released an album.

Then, she started to worry she’d set the bar too high.

“When it came to my debut album, I put real pressure on myself for it to be brilliant,” she says.

“It was so crippling. I couldn’t write anything unless it was perfect.

“It was only when I allowed myself to relax and be messy that I started making good things.”

Letting go became a theme of the album: letting go of expectations, of uncertainty, of youthful heartbreak. Dean stretched herself as a songwriter, putting a modern spin on Motown in Dive; and creating an atmosphere of alien disconnection on the heavily-vocodered UFO.

Released on the same weekend she made her Glastonbury debut, it went on to be nominated for the Mercury Prize.

Now, the 24-year-old has been named runner-up in BBC Radio 1’s Sound Of 2024.

“It’s bizarre to me,” she says. “When I try to process this year, I’m aware that I made an album that I love, but all the other stuff? I dreamt about being nominated for a Mercury Prize, I dreamt of being on the Sound Of poll.

“It’s bizarre. It’s bizarre. That’s the only word.”

Olivia Dean
Image caption,The singer’s debut album, Messy, was nominated for the 2023 Mercury Prize

Born and raised in Highams Park, north-east London, Dean knew she wanted to be a singer from an early age.

From a distance, she’d watched her cousin – So Solid Crew rapper and actor Ashley Walters – top the charts; but it was another Londoner who really inspired her.

“People always try and say something cool when they talk about their first record – but I remember my Granny taking me to Woolworths to buy Leona Lewis’s A Moment Like This on CD single,” she says.

“My head was really in that pop space, I was listening to Leona and JLS and loving it.”

Short presentational grey line

In the meantime, her dad was introducing her to Carole King and Al Green while her mum, a barrister, was playing Jill Scott, Angie Stone and Lauryn Hill (from whom Olivia gets her middle name).

Music may have filled the house but musical talent was not a family trait.

“My mum actually got kicked out of her school choir because she was so bad at it,” laughs Dean.

“They were like, ‘Christine, you’re sinking the ship, you have to leave’. And to be honest, I couldn’t always sing. I got a little bit of pitchiness from my mum. I definitely had lessons.”

What she did inherit from her mum was drive. Dean’s school wasn’t big on music, but she would insist on singing Alicia Keys during assembly until “everyone started getting tired of me”.

Then she enrolled in a Saturday school, learning musical theatre and drama, and experiencing her first bout of stage fright.

“I sang Tomorrow from Annie in a competition, and I was so nervous that I had to place my back to the audience,” she recalls.

“The pianist was just like, ‘Turn around, you can do this’. So I spun around and faced everyone, singing Tomorrow with tears streaming down my face. But it must have worked, because I took second place!”

Olivia Dean
Image caption,The 24-year-old says her ultimate ambition is to headline Glastonbury

Aged 15, Dean won a place at the Brit School, determinedly making a three-hour round trip to her classes every day. “I wanted to go there like hell or high water,” she says.

With Machiavellian cunning, she enrolled on the theatre course, having deduced she didn’t have the correct qualifications to study music. But once she’d completed a couple of terms, she switched disciplines and started writing songs for homework, on a second-hand piano she’d begged her mum to buy.

“You don’t start with the good ones, I’ll tell you that,” she confesses.

“The tap has to run brown before it runs clear. I just can’t express enough that I’ve written a lot of bad songs.”

Still, by the time she performed her graduation concert, she’d written enough “good ones” to attract the attention of a manager.

“The only problem was she couldn’t get my email address because you weren’t allowed to message minors.”

Once they connected, Emily Braham (who still manages Dean today) put her forward for an audition with Rudimental. To her surprise, she passed.

Her first show was in front of 16,000 people at the Sziget Festival in Budapest; and she featured on the band’s 2019 single, Adrenaline.

That year, she also released her own song, Reason to Stay, a warm and soulful introduction to her heartsick love ballads.

An EP quickly followed, recorded in a converted east London pub but, crucially, using live instruments instead of samples and synthesizers.

The title track, OK Love You Bye, was streamed millions of times, landing the singer a deal with EMI Records. Over the next three years, she charted her development – as a songwriter and as a woman – through her music.

“Some people keep diaries, but songs are more concise,” she says, “and over that period, I grew from an infatuated, hopeless, heartbroken girl, to someone who’s really empowered”.

She highlights two songs, Be My Own Boyfriend and The Hardest Part, as being particularly important. The latter witnesses her dumping a boyfriend who can’t handle her growing independence.

Your opinions would define me / This time, I made some for myself,” she sings. “You had the chance to love me, but apparently you won’t.”

“I really found myself in that time,” she says. “Ever since, I’ve been like, ‘I’m an important, grown woman’, and I won’t let people take advantage.

“I want to inject that into other people’s lives, to remind them they don’t need somebody else to exist.”

Olivia Dean
Image caption,The star begins a European tour in May, including three nights at London’s Hammermsith Apollo

Female empowerment and independence have been well-worn themes in pop ever since TLC adopted their staunch anti-Scrub stance in 1999.

But Dean’s messages are more complex and human.

On the recent single Ladies Room, she marries a vintage soul beat to a thoroughly contemporary idea – that people need time and space to themselves, even when they’re in a couple.

And her breakout radio hit, Dive, captures the nervous excitement of plunging into a new relationship.

“I was in love!” she exclaims. “I was happy, I’d had an Aretha resurgence, and I just wanted to write something joyful and fluffy.

“It’s a very happy song for me to sing. I have a lot of sad songs, so it’s nice to end shows on a high.”

On another note, her album closer, Carmen, is a Soca-infused tribute to her grandmother – who moved to the UK from Guyana as part of the Windrush generation.

“She was 18 when she came to London, and I was like, ‘What the hell was I doing at 18?’

“I certainly wasn’t travelling across the world, completely up-ending my life, working two jobs and having four kids, you know?

“She’s a reminder of how lucky I am to be here. I say it at every show, I’m a product of her bravery.”

Growing up mixed-race in east London, Dean says she “felt quite ‘other'” for a lot of her childhood.

But as a musician, the melting pot of influences and cultures made her comfortable in multiple genres.

At first, she says, that was confusing.

“You think there are rules about what you’re supposed to make. I love singer-songwriters like Laura Marling, but am I supposed to make R&B?

“Then I realised, I can do all of those things. I can do whatever I want.”

The industry still hasn’t caught up with that idea, however, and Dean was dismayed when a streaming service put her alt-pop ballad UFO on the cover of its R&B playlist.

“I was asked to post about it and I said, ‘I absolutely will not! Perhaps I have other songs that sit in that lane, but there is nothing R&B about UFO, and I won’t allow it to be categorised in that way’.”

Olivia Dean
Image caption,Dean is also expected to receive nominations for the 2024 Brit Awards later this month

As she matures, Dean has become more comfortable with “not sitting” in one predefined corner of the music industry. In fact, she reckons that might even be her superpower.

“I feel like I could do anything. I could springboard from any of the musical touch-points on my album and do something completely new.

“Whatever it is, who cares?”

You get the sense Dean’s story is only just beginning. But she has a goal in sight, and it’s a pretty lofty one.

“For me, the endpoint is headlining Glastonbury. It’s always been that.”

Pyramid Stage – you have been warned.

New antibiotic compound very exciting, expert says

stock photo of research laboratory equipment

By Smitha Mundasad

Health reporter

An expert microbiologist has hailed the discovery of a potential new class of antibiotics that could treat lethal hospital infections as “very exciting”.

The new compound, zosurabalpin, worked “extremely well” in test-tubes and mice, Global Antibiotic Research and Development Partnership scientific director Prof Laura Piddock said.

The research offered “definite hope” for other hard-to-treat infections, she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

It is published in the journal Nature.

US researchers focused on finding a new way to treat infections caused by the carbapenem-resistant Acinetobacter baumannii (Crab) bacterium.

The organism, classed a “priority-one critical pathogen” by the World Health Organization, can cause very serious invasive blood and chest infections in critically ill hospital patients.

It is resistant to many known antibiotics

And about 40-60% of those infected die

A key reason it is so hard to find new drugs that neutralise it is because of the bacterium’s tricky structure – with a double walled “membrane” surrounding it and protecting it from attack.

This configuration “makes it very difficult to get drugs into it and to get drugs to stay inside”, Prof Piddock told BBC News.

But zosurabalpin, found after screening about 45,000 small molecules with potential antibiotic properties, appears to destroy the organism’s ability to successfully assemble this key protective membrane.

‘First-in-man’ studies

“What is exciting about this discovery is that one of the building blocks that are part of the outer part of this bacterial cell is disrupted by this new drug,” Prof Piddock said.

In laboratory experiments, the compound stopped a critical building block – a lipopolysaccharide – being transported to the outer part of the cell, preventing the protective membrane from forming properly and ultimately leading to cell death.

It was “exciting” the researchers had already completed some “first-in-man” studies – on a relatively small number of healthy people – and were “set up now to go on and do full clinical trials in people with the infection”, Prof Piddock said.

But “we are a very long way” from it being used in hospitals.

‘Definite hope’

Prof Piddock said: “Full clinical trials… take a lot of time, several years. And indeed, they cost millions of pounds to do. And even if the trial is successful, then the drug has to be approved for use and then made accessible to those that need it – and that is all over the world not just in a few countries that can afford it.

“Therein is the big problem – the economics of making antibiotics.”

But despite the considerable hurdles, there is “definite hope”.

“It is really exciting – and not only is it good for this type of bacteria, but this could be built upon for others as well,” Prof Piddock added.