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Drones fly high in farming

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The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International estimates that farms will eventually account for an 80% share of the projected $127 billion commercial drone market, which is why a Cape Town start-up has already found ways to help farmers mange their land through drone photography and data analysis.

The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International estimates that farms will eventually account for an 80% share of the projected $127 billion commercial drone market. By conceptualising, developing and building their own autonomous unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and systems, a Cape Town start-up is already helping farmers manage their land through drone aerial photography and data analysis.

Founded by two engineers, James Paterson and Benji Meltzer who studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Imperial College London respectively, the main focus of Aerobotics is to develop turnkey systems, which collect actionable data for their clients. This is an end-to-end drone solution that includes data processing, analysis software and support.

Paterson and Meltzer, both in their mid-20s, were top of their undergraduate class at the University of Cape Town. A few years later they reconnected and began to discuss starting a business together. Paterson had grown up on a farm in Clanwilliam in the Western Cape and had been inventing tools to assist in agricultural from as young as primary school. His passion for farming and engineering skills were perfectly suited to Meltzer’s strong talents in data collection and analysis.

“The drone space is growing quickly and it was the perfect opportunity to combine both our skillsets. We do everything in-house, from building and maintaining the drones to writing the software for them and processing data,” Meltzer explains.

Aerobotics, a seven-person company that recently acquired GIBS MBA graduate Andrew Burdock as its Commercial Director, currently focuses on the agricultural and mining spaces. It has a joint venture in place in Australia, contracts flowing in and is currently seeking funding partners as it expands in western markets.

With an American study showing that corn, soybean and wheat farmers could save an estimated $1.3 billion annually by using drones to increase crop yields and reduce input costs, the team is making steady progress in this sector. This is largely due to its affordability, ease-of-use and one-flight data versatility. The drones provide valuable data to the farmers, including determining where crops are under stress which helps to increase yields. “It’s all about early problem detection,” Paterson says, “Farmers can also use this data for reducing input costs by reducing both water and chemical usage.”

The Aerobotics drones are appealing in that they are entirely autonomous, which means that the user simply has to select an area that they want to scan and the drone will fly itself via autopilot. The drone then downloads all of the data and pin points, for example, where the crops are under stress. This allows the problem to be rectified before it has fully developed.

“The first time we used the drones and the software was a neighbouring farmer in Clanwilliam. With the drone, we were able to point out issues that the farm was having, which was caused by a windbreak that was taking away nutrients from the trees. The owner of the farm was blown away,” Paterson says. It was December 2014 and the company was officially born.

Aerobotics’ first client was the University of Stellenbosch’s Plant Readers Laboratory. Eighteen months later, they service several clients and have had over 20 drone sales across the board. Recently the South African Cane Growers’ Association (CANEGROWERS) has signed up too.

Innovations Specialist Richard Howes says, “SA CANEGROWERS, through its commercial arm, Womoba, has formed a partnership with Aerobotics to leverage the advantages of drones for precision agriculture. Current market pressures do not allow the luxury of outdated farming practices.”

He adds that Aerobotics technology will allow sugarcane farmers to reduce costs while increasing yields, improving sustainability and profitability in touch economic times.

In the mining sector, the drones are used to conduct surveys and measure stockpiles. According to a survey of 190 miners by International Data Corporation (IDC), two of every three mining companies globally are looking at remote operations and monitoring centres while half are evaluating new mining methods. A third are looking at robotics and one-fourth at unmanned aerial vehicles – drones.

“Mining is still a relatively new sector for drones, but we are making swift headway in the South African market,” explains Meltzer.

Yet this is just the beginning for the young company. They are looking to move into other large markets including livestock farming and security. They are also continuously developing the science behind their data in conjunction with other experts globally, ensuring that they can give their clients more in-depth analysis and a better understanding of the information that the drones collect.

The American Farm Bureau Federation estimates that farmers could see a return on investment on agricultural drones of $12 (R174) per acre for corn and $2 to $3 (R29 to R44) per acre for soybeans and wheat. With the South African agricultural sector accounting for 3% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) and currently facing challenges including increasing resource limitations, depleted soils and over-extracted and polluted water reserves, not to mention a drought, the market is in need of this type of technology.

In fact a recent PwC global report on the commercial applications of drone technology, it is estimated that drones will bring a market value of $32.4 billion to agriculture and $4.3 billion to mining. The report finds that the drone revolution is disrupting industries across the board.

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Samsung S10 in lock-step with its rivals?

Tonight Samsung will kick off the next round in the smartphone wars with the S10 range, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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When Samsung unveils the new S10 smartphone at an event in San Francisco today, it will mark the beginning of the 2019 round of World War S. That stands for smartphone wars, although Samsung would like it to be all about the S.

Ever since the launch of the Samsung Galaxy S4 in 2013, Samsung has held both technology and thought leadership in the handset world. Back then, Apple’s iPhone 5 was the last device from the American manufacturer that could lay claim to being the best smartphone in the world. With the 2013 launch of the iPhone 5s, Apple entered an era of incremental improvement, playing catch-up, and succumbing to market trends driven by its competitors.

Six years later, Samsung is fighting off the same threat. Its Chinese rival, Huawei, suddenly wrested away leadership in the past year, with the P20 Pro and Mate 20 Pro regarded as at last equal to the Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus and Galaxy Note 9 – if not superior. Certainly, from a cost perspective, Huawei took the lead with its more competitive prices, and therefore more value for money.

Huawei also succeeded where Apple failed: introducing more economical versions of its flagship phones. The iPhone 5c, SE and XR have all been disappointments in the sales department, mainly because the price difference was not massive enough to attract lower-income users. In contrast, the Lite editions of the Huawei P9, P10 and P20 have been huge successes, especially in South Africa.

Today, for the first time in half a decade, Samsung goes into battle on a field laid out by its competitors. It is expected to launch the Galaxy S10 Plus, S10 and S10 e, with the latter being the Samsung answer to the strategy of the iPhone XR and Huawei P20 Lite.

Does this mean Samsung is now in lock-step with its rivals, focused on matching their strategies rather than running ahead of them?

It may seem that way, but Samsung has a few tricks up its electronic sleeve. For example, it is possible it will use the S10 launch to announce its coming range of foldable phones, expected to be called the Galaxy X, Galaxy F, Galaxy Fold or Galaxy Flex. It previewed the technology at a developer conference in San Francisco last November, and this will be the ideal moment to reclaim technology leadership by going into production with foldables – even if the S10 range itself does not shoot out the lights.

However, the S10 handsets will look very different to their predecessors. First, before switching on the phone, they will be notable by the introduction of what is being called the punch-hole display, which breaks away from the current trend of having a notch at the top of the phone to house front-facing cameras and speakers. Instead, the punch-hole is a single round cut-out that will contain the front camera. It is the key element of Samsung’s “Infinity O” display – the O represents the punchhole – which will be the first truly edge-to-edge display, on the sides and top.

The S10 range will use the new Samsung user interface, One UI, also unveiled at the developer conference. It replaces the previous “skin”, unimaginatively called the Samsung Experience, to introduce a strong new interface brand.

One UI went live on the Note 8 last month, giving us a foretaste, and giving Samsung a chance to iron out the bugs in the field. It is a less cluttered interface, addressing one of the biggest complaints about most manufacturer skins. Only Nokia and Google Pixel handsets offer pure Android in the local market, but One UI is Samsung’s best compromise yet.

It introduces a new interaction area, in the bottom half, reachable with the thumb, with a viewing area at the top, allowing the user to work one-handed on the bottom area while still having apps or related content visible above. One UI also improves gesture navigation – the phone picks up hand movements without being touched – and notification management.

The S10 range will be the first phones to feature the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 chip, at least for the South African and American markets. That makes it 5G compatible, for when this next generation of mobile broadband becomes available in these markets.

They will also be the first phones to feature Wi-Fi 6, the next generation of the Wi-Fi mobile wireless standard. It will perform better in congested areas, and data transfer will be up to 40% faster than the previous generation.

The phones will be the first to use ultrasound for fingerprint detection. If Samsung gets it right, this will make it the fastest in-screen fingerprint sensor on the market, and allows for a little leeway if one pushes the finger down slightly outside the fingerprint reader surface. It does mean, however, that screen protectors will have to be redesigned to avoid blocking the detection.

Not enough firsts? There are a few more.

Most notably, it will be the first phone range to feature 1 Terabyte (TB) storage – that’s a thousand Gigabytes (GB) – at least for the top-of-the-range devices. Samsung last month announced that it would be the first manufacturer to make 1TB built-in onboard flash storage. Today, it will deploy this massive advantage as it once again weaponises its technology in the fight for smartphone domination.

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

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IoT set to improve authentication

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By Sherry Zameer, Senior Vice President, Internet of Things Solutions for CISMEA region at Gemalto

As it rapidly approaches maturity, the Internet of Things (IoT) is set to continue a transformational trajectory, introducing new efficiencies in multiple fields by allowing measurement and analysis on a scale that has never been possible before. From agriculture to logistics, from retail to hospitality, from traffic to health, from the home to the office, the applications for monitoring ”things” are limited only by the imagination.

And South African (and African) businesses are showing abundant imagination in their practical deployments of IoT solutions in multiple settings, creating a better tomorrow through almost universal measurement and the introduction of new levels of convenience – including how to access locations, devices and services securely.

Any company, whether South African or international, should bear in mind that understanding consumer expectations can be the key to unlocking the full potential of IoT devices and related smart services.

According to Gemalto’s latest Connected Living study, improving the way consumers authenticate themselves to services is one of the most anticipated benefits of IoT, highlighting a desire for a more seamless and secure IoT experience.

Consumers are interested in advanced ways of authenticating themselves through automatic (based on behavioral patterns) or biometric techniques, lessening the need to have to intervene manually, all in the name of a much more streamlined authentication process. Smartphone manufacturers like Apple and Samsung have already placed fingerprint and facial recognition high on the agenda. There is also a widespread positive sentiment towards IoT’s potential for improving the quality of home life through connected, smart appliances.

Personalised services is something else that wins consumers over. In fact, a fluid, personalised and unified experience with continuity of services, together with security and privacy, is critical for the successful implementation of any technology.

And those types of services are today quite possible. With everything being connected – from small gadgets to digital solutions for large enterprises – IoT is no longer just a buzzword. That much is clear in a piece from Vodacom IoT managing executive Deon Liebenberg. Writing for IOL Online, Liebenberg provides insight into the sheer range of applications for IoT: the 20 use cases he cites range from the obvious, like transport and logistics, to the connected home and wearables; he even suggests tagging pets with IoT transmitters, for those who always need to know the whereabouts of the family cat.

Low-cost tags fitted to cats, dogs, lamp posts, shipping containers or other items are just one part of the puzzle, however. There are other two pieces; arguably the most complex part is the availability of communication networks in areas where there aren’t any WiFi networks, or indeed, anything else.

And that’s where the bigger takeaway from Liebenberg’s piece and other IoT trends articles becomes apparent. The communication networks are there, as are those tags: dedicated IoT networks (like LoraWAN, SigFox and narrowband IoT) are all available in South Africa.

So, too, is the third and final essential component. Software which is able to process the data generated by the tag and transmitted over the IoT network and into the internet. In this regard, there’s no shortage of solutions available from cloud providers like AWS and Azure; electronics giant Siemens, too, is in on the action, having recently launched a new cloud-based IoT operating system to develop applications and services for process industries, including oil and gas and water management.

This combination means it is quite possible right now to enable just about any use case. Business owners, who will know best how IoT can add value in their organisation, can now see their ideas becoming reality. Most crucial of all, IoT solutions delivering new levels of efficiency and convenience are not only possible, they are able to be offered with the simple and effective security that will drive consumer acceptance.

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