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Electric is to vehicles what digital is to business

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The launch of the second generation Nissan Leaf electric vehicle signals the auto equivalent of digitalising business, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

Businesses are besieged with warnings that they will not survive if they do not become digital organisations. That means ripping out traditional structures, styles and processes of business, and preparing for a world in which information flow is at the heart of operational activity.

The same thing is about to happen in the automobile industry, but replacing the word “digital” with “electric”. One after another, governments are beginning to set target dates for reduced or even zero emissions from new vehicles. Car brands have to change, or vanish.

However, merely replacing a petrol-driven vehicle with an electric version is the business equivalent of making digital versions of company documents and little more. By not adapting the way the business operates, this “digitisation” creates greater inefficiency by duplicating rather than replacing processes.

So it is with the electric vehicle (EV): merely putting these on the road without changing the ecosystem within which they operate, they have little impact on the environment, or on lifestyles. For this reason, numerous EVs that have taken to the road over the past 70 years have vanished not only from the roads, but also from our memories.

Suddenly, that is changing. The success of two brands – the Tesla and the Nissan Leaf – has acted as an On button for an EV revolution.

Nissan Leaf

Nissan Leaf

Tesla is still primarily an American brand, with a network of charging stations focused on California but beginning to spread across the country. Nissan has it heartland in Japan, where charging stations are almost as common as petrol stations. In South Africa, only a few dozen charging stations dot the country.

Globally, however, Nissan is leading the charge. The Leaf is the world’s best-selling EV, with around 300 000 sold in six years of production. That doesn’t sound like much, given that Nissan sold 5.63-million vehicles in total last year. However, it is becoming clear that the first generation Leaf was as much a proof of concept as a pioneering vehicle.

It’s by no means the first EV in production. That legacy belongs to the 1947 Tama, built in a post-war era when oil was scarce and electricity plentiful in Japan. With a top speed of 35km/h and a range of 96km, it was used mainly as a taxi for the next three years. The 1950 Korean war brought with it an oil boom, and electric vehicles became little more than a fanciful notion. Tama’s manufacturer, Tokyo Electro Automobile, became Prince Motors, and then merged with Nissan in 1966.

It was only in the 1990s that the conceot became viable again, when Nissan and Sony jointly developed the first Lithium-ion battery that could be used in a car. In 1997, it debuted in the Prairie Joy EV, which is famed for having been used for Japan’s Arctic Envoronment Research Centre at the North Pole for six years without a mechanical hitch.

An advanced version of that battery was built into the 2000 Hypermini, used for the world’s first vehicle-sharing trials in Yokohama and Ebina. The trials proved the utility of electric vehicles in urban areas, and persuaded Nissan to proceed with development of the Leaf.

Last week, the second generation Leaf was unveiled in Tokyo, highlighting both the evolution of EVs and of the thinking behind their role in urban environment.

Nissan Leaf charging

Nissan Leaf charging

The specs are, of course, the key selling point of the vehicle, and no spec is more important, at this stage in EV history, than range.  The limited range of many EVs has even resulted in a new phrase – “range anxiety” – to describe the stress people feel when they think their vehicle will run out of power before they reach a charging station.

That term may soon be considered quaint. Nissan has more than doubled the range of the Leaf, to 400km from less than 200km. This has required a more dense battery, which takes a little longer to charge than the previous version: 14 hours when plugged into a normal power outlet at home or work, compared to 12 hours before, and 40 minutes at a fast-charge station, compared to 30 minutes before. The trade-off for longer range will be welcomed.

At last week’s world premiere of the new Leaf, however, such improvements had equal billing to Nissans EV philosophy. Its thinking is framed in the concept of Nissan Intelligent Mobility, which rests on three pillars: Intelligent Power, Intelligent Driving and Intelligent Integration.

Daniele Schillaci, executive vice president for global marketing and sales at Nissan, summed up the pillars at the premiere:

“The first pillar is Nissan Intelligent Driving, which gives our customers more confidence through safety, control and comfort. This includes our development of autonomous drive technologies and advanced driving systems.

“The second pillar is Nissan Intelligent Power, which makes the drive more exciting but also cleaner and more efficient. This includes zero-emission and electrification technologies.

“The third pillar is Nissan Intelligent Integration, which connects our vehicles to our wider society.”

The Leaf’s autonomous technology, ProPILOT, is likely to capture headlines for bringing the self-driving vehicle closer to reality.

ProPILOT Assist technology, will be available to customers later this year. ProPILOT Assist reduces the hassle of stop-and-go driving by helping control acceleration, braking and steering during single-lane highway driving.

ProPILOT Assist technology, will be available to customers later this year. ProPILOT Assist reduces the hassle of stop-and-go driving by helping control acceleration, braking and steering during single-lane highway driving.

“Once activated, ProPILOT can  automatically control the steering, acceleration, and brakes using a speed preset by the driver,” said Hideyuki Sakamoto, executive vice president for product engineering. “It is a single-lane autonomous driving technology that you can use on highways.

“The ProPILOT park controls every operation required for parking including acceleration, braking, shifting, turning the steering wheel and applying the parking brake.

“The combination of the world’s first four omnidirectional cameras and 12 ultrasonic sensors enables you to park precisely wherever you wish in just three steps, at a press of your finger.”

However, it is Intelligent Integration which truly sets the Leaf apart from its growing roster of competitors.

N1216_LEAF_infographic2000px

It incorporates vehicle-to-grid and vehicle-to-home systems that allow the car to feed power back into the electricity grid, or to keep a home’s lights and appliances on during a power outage. In Nissan’s hometown of Yokohama, near Tokyo, it is being integrated into city planning.

The future potential is for smart buildings, smart homes and smart cars not only to talk to each other, but also to coordinate resources between them, automatically. Because it extends beyond the car and can have a massive impact on the urban environment at large, intelligent mobility may well represent an even bigger lifestyle shift than self-driving cars. The EV represents the beginning of that shift.

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

2017 Nissan LEAF specifications (Japan model)

Specifications for other regions will be announced at the start of sales.

Exterior 
Overall length (mm) 4,480
Overall width (mm) 1,790
Overall height (mm) 1,540
Wheelbase (mm) 2,700
Track width front/rear (mm) 1,530-1,540/1,545-1,555
Minimum ground clearance (mm) 150
Coefficient of drag (Cd) 0.28
Tires 205/55R16 or 215/50R17
Cargo area (VDA) 435 L
Weight/capacity (kg)
Curb weight 1,490-1,520
Capacity 5 passenger
Gross vehicle weight 1,765-1,795
Battery
Type Li-ion battery
Capacity 40 kWh
Electric motor
Name EM57
Maximum output 110 kW (150 ps)/3283~9795 rpm
Maximum torque 320 N・m (32.6 kgf・m)/0~3283 rpm
Performance
Cruising range 400 km (JC08)
Charging time (normal charging) 16 hours (3 kW)
8 hours (6 kW)
Charging time from alert to 80% (quick charging) 40 minutes

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AppDate: Prepare for space

In this week’s AppDate, SEAN BACHER highlights Space Nation Navigator, Hitman Sniper, Snake Mask, Memrise, WhatsApp Web, and Carrot Weather.

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Space Nation Navigator

Space Nation Navigator is a bit of a strange app. It is part game, part exercise and part educational. On the game side, users have to navigate the Mars Rover, put the International Space Station back into orbit or move their Martians to safety before a sand storm hits Mars. When it comes to exercise, Space Nation Navigator provides users with a range of exercises and Yoga videos to prepare them for space travel and working in an anti-gravity environment. The education aspect teaches users about the planets, and star constellations, and then offers quizzes on what has been taught.

Platform: Android and iOS

Cost: A free download.

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

 

Memrise

Memrise takes a new approach to help people learn new languages. Instead of providing a user with random phrases and words to memorise, the app connects you with a person already fluent in the language you want to learn. In turn, the person you are speaking to wants to learn the language in which you are fluent. Once your profile is filled out and languages selected, it connects you with people around the world who are interested in your language, and then allows you to chat with them in real-time. Memrise also lets one learn new languages through games, chatbots and grammarbots that help with spelling, tenses and pronunciations.

Platform: Android and iOS

Cost: A free download.

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

 

Hitman Sniper

Hitman Sniper is loosely based on the Agent 47 movie released a few years ago. The game offers players the ability to hone their shooting skills through a range of training courses and, once they think they are ready, they can start taking out the bad guys. Things start off easy enough, but they get more and more difficult as one progresses through the 150 missions on offer. One will also have to upgrade various gun components, like scopes, magazine capacities and silencers, to make the missions a little easier. Hitman Sniper lets users buy 16 to tackle each of the missions – either with real money or via the points accumulated by completing missions. Money and points can also be used to upgrade firearms.

Platform: Android and iOS

Cost: R7 – with a range of in-app purchases.

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

 

Snake Mask

The iconic Snake game that was preinstalled on most older Nokia phones has had a complete make-over. It now uses Facebook’s AR technology, meaning that you have to navigate the snake around obstacles in your home or office, all the while collecting coins and stars that change the snake’s speed and length. Unfortunately, Snake Mask is only available on Nokia’s new range of smartphones. However, it should not take long before it slithers onto other devices.

 

Platform: New Nokia smartphones running Android.

Cost: Free to use through the Facebook app installed on the device.

Stockists: Available through the Facebook app.

 

WhatsApp Web

Although this is by no means a new app, it is an extremely useful one, and one that not many people know about. Tapping out WhatsApps on your phone is easy enough, but thanks to WhatsApp Web it can be even easier. Open the WhatApp Web page under WhatsApp and you will see a QR code. Scan this code through WhatsApp on your mobile and you will be shown a replica of what you would normally see on your phone. You can then type and reply to messages using your computer instead of having to stop everything and unlock your phone every time a message comes through. WhatsApp Web is great if you share your computer with other people as it automatically disconnects when the browser is closed. However WhatsApp also offers an app that when installed will stay connected to your phone unless you manually remove it.

 

Platform: Any up-to-date Internet browser

Cost: Free to use and install

Stockists: Visit www.WhatsApp.com

 

Carrot Weather

There are thousands of weather apps on the Internet these days and all of them do the same thing – inform you of the weather in your area. However, Carrot Weather has taken what is just another app and turned it into something fun. By fun, I mean sarcastic, rude and completely politically incorrect. A user starts off by selecting religious and political views. It then asks about personality, ranging from friendly to homicidal to overkill – which includes profanity. So, for instance, instead of waking up to to the standard partly cloudy forecast, Carrot Weather will display something like: “It’s only partly sunny, the sun is a total effing failure.” It also has a range of insults that it throws at you whenever you open the app – some of them downright insulting, so it is definitely not for those who are easily offended. The app’s user interface is very simple, displaying a week’s daily forecast and hourly forecasts for the day selected.

Platform: Android and iOS

Cost: Free to download but with adverts. The premium, advert free version costs R12 per month.

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

* Sean Bacher is editor of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @SeanBacher

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SA Start-up reinvents PABX

For any South African business, the idea of setting up or changing a telephonic switchboard system is the stuff of nightmares. Dealing with expensive hardware and hearing things like QSIG and VOIP is not what you’d call exciting.But now there is an app.

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Enter BuzzBox (www.buzzboxcloud.co.za), a web-based telephone switchboard that is aimed at small and medium sized businesses wanting to take the hassle and cost out of the company switchboard. Whether you are a small one-man operation or a larger organisation with staff working remotely, BuzzBox is the best switchboard solution.

What sets BuzzBox apart from anything else on the market is its easy-to-use dashboard. It puts you in control of everything from picking your phone number to setting up voice prompts and managing your business-hours schedule.

BuzzBox was developed when the startup behind it, Jini-Guru, needed such a service for its own use across multiple continents. “When we started Jini-Guru we could not find a seamless online process that would allow us to set up a full web-based switchboard, so we decided to build one for ourselves,” says Mike Smits, Director at Jini-Guru.

He says a lot of startups today are tech savvy and know how to use apps and the services that go with it. “It’s the uberisation of services and its driving demand for instant service activation.”

BuzzBox works as an app on both iOS and Android but users wanting a desk phone option can choose from a variety of devices on offer or use their existing VOIP phones.

Setting up a BuzzBox account takes 5 minutes. During registration your FICA documents are uploaded [ID and proof or residence] and you get to pick your phone number before the account is created. Companies that want to keep an existing number can do so too.

The real magic happens when you log on to the BuzzBox Dashboard. The main screen displays a summary of statistics for your account while the left-hand menu provides you quick access to various configuration settings and reports.

Setting up new extensions or external numbers is done with a few clicks and you can even set up various departments which is a great way to route a call to various people in a department, like sales or support.

The intuitive user interface also makes it easy to set up hold-music and voice prompts. You can add voice prompts by recording them straight to your phone, just make sure you use a clear voice with quiet surroundings for the best customer experience.

One of the main features of BuzzBox is its call recording feature that allows an organisation to record calls for legislative purposes, such as a lawyer, or for customer service purposes such as support. Recordings are stored securely online, and you have the ability to download recordings for playback. Companies can opt-in for this service and it’s free to use. Recordings are stored online and are fully encrypted so only you can listen to, or download them. Storage costs R1 for every 1000 minutes of stored recordings.

Other features include call forwarding and scheduling. The latter allows you to set office hours for your organisation which will divert calls to an after-hours messaging service. You also have the option to enable routing to an employee who is on call after hours.

BuzzBox also has a reseller program for companies wanting to offer this as a switchboard solution to their existing customers.

The costs for this service is R89 p/m for the first phone number which includes your first extension for free. Thereafter you’ll pay R89p/m per extension. Calls between extensions are free but you pay per second for all outgoing phone calls. More info on pricing can be found here: https://buzzboxcloud.co.za/pricing/

BuzzBox is offering a Launch promotion where they are offering the first line and extension free for 12 months. Only pay for calls. Use promo code “feoifyaa” during sign-up to apply your discount.

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