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Huge tech potential will ride on public transport

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Technology-enabled public transport systems have the potential to become far more than merely ways to get people from the proverbial ‘A to B’, writes Harry van Huyssteen at T-Systems South Africa.

With innovations like high-speed connectivity, sensors, big data, geolocation and mobile services, transit routes can become the connective tissue that creates stronger communities and flourishing local economic development.

These various forms of technology can help stimulate ecosystems of trade and development alongside important commuter routes – uplifting local communities and improving the lives of millions of South Africans.

Using transport routes as a catalyst for economic development, a concept known as Transit Oriented Development (TOD), has a few clear benefits:

•             Access to economic opportunity… employment and entrepreneurship opportunities from businesses that operate at public transport nodes – like bus stations, train terminals, and taxi ranks.

•             Social spaces… where people can connect, network, and share knowledge. Just by creating a safe environment for people to interact, a myriad of opportunities can emerge.

•             Easier movement of labour… integrated and efficient transport routes reduce wasted time (such as waiting time, and walking between a train and a taxi station, for instance) – meaning that people can be more productive, and get home to their families in the evening with less hassle.

For TOD to be possible, gathering and intelligently using masses of commuter data is a critical starting point. Data-driven transport planning can ensure public services infrastructure – like schools, parks, hospitals and police services – are integrated into the major nodes of a region’s public transport infrastructure.

If we are to implement a new bus network in Soweto, for example, data collected from millions of daily commuters would reveal the ideal bus routes, times, and frequencies, to serve the maximum number of passengers.

But in developing economies, TOD strategies often have to be creative, fitting within the existing informal transit services and considering local culture, geography, and practices. Case-studies from first-world countries don’t always work everywhere in the world.

The remarkable Gondola-style cable cars in Columbia’s sprawling mountain city of Medellin is a great example of this. WiFi-equipped capsules transport residents between the upper- to the lower-regions of the city, connecting them with bus networks at ground level. At all of the major nodes you’ll find locally-owned restaurants and shops selling a variety of products to both locals and tourists alike.

In South Africa, we have a unique blend of formal and informal transit mechanisms. Considering local context means using technology to augment and incrementally improve the existing systems, rather than to outright replace them.

Even the most simple technology, like free Wi-Fi, could make a massive difference to commuters in our cities – giving access to those currently on the wrong side of the ‘digital divide’, helping to stimulate local business, and making communication far easier for travellers.

In fact, better communication is one of the clearest ways that we could improve our public transport. Commuters would be able to enquire about schedules and routes – through mobile apps, or USSD sessions, or web portals. Operators could communicate relevant information to passengers likely to be affected by, for instance, a late train (instead of bulk groups of travellers all receiving the same alerts).

Public transport operators could dramatically improve efficiencies with modern transport management systems – which link everything from ticketing to customer counting, from predictive maintenance to driver management and weather alerts. These comprehensive systems enable the optimal resource allocation, and the ability to respond in near real-time to isolated events, such as large entertainment events, unusual weather, strikes, or accidents.

Serving communities and applying technology in a way that benefits all requires deep partnerships between local government and specialist IT partners – to not only improve the levels of mobility and accessibility for commuters, but also stimulate new commerce, services, and tourism opportunities in the districts surrounding the transport hubs.

* Harry van Huyssteen, Transport Industry Subject Matter Expert, at T-Systems South Africa

 

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Money talks and electronic gaming evolves

Computer gaming has evolved dramatically in the last two years, as it follows the money, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK in the second of a two-part series.

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The clue that gaming has become big business in South Africa was delivered by a non-gaming brand. When Comic Con, an American popular culture convention that has become a mecca for comics enthusiasts, was hosted in South Arica for the first time last month, it used gaming as the major drawcard. More than 45 000 people attended.

The event and its attendance was expected to be a major dampener for the annual rAge gaming expo, which took place just weeks later. Instead, rAge saw only a marginal fall in visitor numbers. No less than 34 000 people descended on the Ticketpro Dome for the chaos of cosplay, LAN gaming, virtual reality, board gaming and new video games. 

It proved not only that there was room for more than one major gaming event, but also that a massive market exists for the sector in South Africa. And with a large market, one also found numerous gaming niches that either emerged afresh or will keep going over the years. One of these, LAN (for Local Area Network) gaming, which sees hordes of players camping out at the venue for three days to play each other on elaborate computer rigs, was back as strong as ever at rAge.

MWeb provided an 8Gbps line to the expo, to connect all these gamers, and recorded 120TB in downloads and 15Tb in uploads – a total that would have used up the entire country’s bandwidth a few years ago.

“LANs are supposed to be a thing of the past, yet we buck the trend each year,” says Michael James, senior project manager and owner of rAge. “It is more of a spectacle than a simple LAN, so I can understand.”

New phenomena, often associated with the flavour of the moment, also emerge every year.

“Fortnite is a good example this year of how we evolve,” says James. “It’s a crazy huge phenomenon and nobody was servicing the demand from a tournament point of view. So rAge and Xbox created a casual LAN tournament that anyone could enter and win a prize. I think the top 10 people got something each round.”

Read on to see how esports is starting to make an impact in gaming.

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Blockchain unpacked

Blockchain is generally associated with Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, but these are just the tip of the iceberg, says ESET Southern Africa.

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This technology was originally conceived in 1991, when Stuart Haber and W. Scott Stornetta described their first work on a chain of cryptographically secured blocks, but only gained notoriety in 2008, when it became popular with the arrival of Bitcoin. It is currently gaining demand in other commercial applications and its annual growth is expected to reach 51% by 2022 in numerous markets, such as those of financial institutions and the Internet of Things (IoT), according to MarketWatch.

What is blockchain?

A blockchain is a unique, consensual record that is distributed over multiple network nodes. In the case of cryptocurrencies, think of it as the accounting ledger where each transaction is recorded.

A blockchain transaction is complex and can be difficult to understand if you delve into the inner details of how it works, but the basic idea is simple to follow.

Each block stores:

–           A number of valid records or transactions.
–           Information referring to that block.
–           A link to the previous block and next block through the hash of each block—a unique code that can be thought of as the block’s fingerprint.

Accordingly, each block has a specific and immovable place within the chain, since each block contains information from the hash of the previous block. The entire chain is stored in each network node that makes up the blockchain, so an exact copy of the chain is stored in all network participants.

As new records are created, they are first verified and validated by the network nodes and then added to a new block that is linked to the chain.

How is blockchain so secure?

Being a distributed technology in which each network node stores an exact copy of the chain, the availability of the information is guaranteed at all times. So if an attacker wanted to cause a denial-of-service attack, they would have to annul all network nodes since it only takes one node to be operative for the information to be available.

Besides that, since each record is consensual, and all nodes contain the same information, it is almost impossible to alter it, ensuring its integrity. If an attacker wanted to modify the information in a blockchain, they would have to modify the entire chain in at least 51% of the nodes.

In blockchain, data is distributed across all network nodes. With no central node, all participate equally, storing, and validating all information. It is a very powerful tool for transmitting and storing information in a reliable way; a decentralised model in which the information belongs to us, since we do not need a company to provide the service.

What else can blockchain be used for?

Essentially, blockchain can be used to store any type of information that must be kept intact and remain available in a secure, decentralised and cheaper way than through intermediaries. Moreover, since the information stored is encrypted, its confidentiality can be guaranteed, as only those who have the encryption key can access it.

Use of blockchain in healthcare

Health records could be consolidated and stored in blockchain, for instance. This would mean that the medical history of each patient would be safe and, at the same time, available to each doctor authorised, regardless of the health centre where the patient was treated. Even the pharmaceutical industry could use this technology to verify medicines and prevent counterfeiting.

Use of blockchain for documents

Blockchain would also be very useful for managing digital assets and documentation. Up to now, the problem with digital is that everything is easy to copy, but Blockchain allows you to record purchases, deeds, documents, or any other type of online asset without them being falsified.

Other blockchain uses

This technology could also revolutionise the Internet of Things  (IoT) market where the challenge lies in the millions of devices connected to the internet that must be managed by the supplier companies. In a few years’ time, the centralised model won’t be able to support so many devices, not to mention the fact that many of these are not secure enough. With blockchain, devices can communicate through the network directly, safely, and reliably with no need for intermediaries.

Blockchain allows you to verify, validate, track, and store all types of information, from digital certificates, democratic voting systems, logistics and messaging services, to intelligent contracts and, of course, money and financial transactions.

Without doubt, blockchain has turned the immutable and decentralized layer the internet has always dreamed about into a reality. This technology takes reliance out of the equation and replaces it with mathematical fact.

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