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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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AppDate: Shedding light in our times of darkness

SEAN BACHER’S app roundup highlights two load-shedding apps, along with South AfriCAM, NBA 2K Mobile, Virgin Mobile’s Spot 3.0 and SwiftKey.

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Load Shedding Notifier

With all the uncertainty about when South Africans will next be plunged into darkness by Eskom, the Load Shedding Notifier tries its best to keep up with Eskom’s schedule. The app is very simple to use. Download it, type an area in and click the save button. The app automatically tells you what load shedding stage Eskom is on, the times you can expect to start lighting candles and for how long to burn them.

Multiple areas can be added and one can switch between the different stages to see how each one will affect a certain area.

A grid status is also displayed, showing how strained the country’s electrical network is.

Platform: Android and iOS

Expect to pay: A free download

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device

EskomSePush Load Shedding App

EskomSePush does much the same as the Load Shedding Notifier, but allows multiple cities to be tracked. However, they may just want to rethink the name of the app if they want wider respectability.

Platform: Android and iOS

Expect to pay: A free download

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device

South AfriCAM

South AfriCAM enables users to add branded stickers and frames from popular lifestyle magazine titles to their posts, including Huisgenoot, YOU, Drum, Move!, TRUE LOVE, Women’s Health and Men’s Health. 

In the process, they can earn JETPoints for their social influence: through the app’s built-in JET8 social currency, users are rewarded for their engagement. For every in-app like, comment, and share, users earn JETPoints, which can be used to redeem products online or over the counter across more than 2 500 retail stores in South Africa. Users are additionally awarded JETPoints for cross-posting onto external social media networks.

Platform: Android and iOS

Expect to pay: A free download

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device

Click here to read about console quality graphics on a mobile phone, Virgin Money payments made easier, and an app that redesigns the keyboard.

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Drones to drive
Western Cape agritech

Aerobotics is set to change how farmers treat their crops by using drones and machine learning, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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The Western Cape is poised to be a hotbed of innovation in the agritech sector, with drone piloting set to playing a major role in in the tech start-up scene.

This is the view of Tim Willis, chief operating officer of pioneering drone company Aerobotics, a Cape Town drone company recognised as a world leader in agritech.

“Drone piloting is a key skill that feeds into the value chain of the budding 4th Industrial Revolution,” said Willis. “Cape Town and the Western Cape is uniquely positioned to be the melting pot for innovation in the agritech sector, as a leading agricultural exporter and a hub for creative tech start-ups.”

He was speaking at AeroCon, a drone expo organised by Aerobotics and held in Johannesburg this week aimed at providing opportunities for drone pilots to apply their skills in South Africa, and to show how drones are being used to collect data on crops. 

The event was supported by the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA), Wesgro, PROMMAC, MicaSense, and Rectron, among other

“We’re starting to sign up farmers across the country,” said Willis. “It’s exciting because farmers are starting to use drone technology on their farms. When a farmer wants a drone flown, they want it flown [now] so it’s important for us to capture that data as quickly as possible to show that drones are fast and effective.”

According to aerobotics, drone technology can help farmers reduce pesticide use on their crops by up to 30%. The result is environmentally friendly farming, reducing stressed crops and a healthier harvest. 

“We use aerial imagery from drones to recreate a 3D model of every single tree on a farmer’s orchard,” said Willis. “We’ve done this for millions of trees and it starts to give the farmers metrics of what they’re doing. We provide them with the health of the trees, the height, the volume, the canopy area, which enable the farms to make decisions on what to do next.”

Click here to read more about AeroCon and what it offers to those wanting to get into the drone industry.

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