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IoT takes pulse of nature

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The Internet of Things and other mobile tech offers us the ability to advance our efforts in preserving and saving the environment, writes RESHAAD SHA, Chief Executive Officer, SqwidNet.

Humanity today finds itself living in what is defined as the ‘Anthropocene Age’, or the age of man. This is characterised by the massive environmental modifications occurring on Earth, encompassing such issues as climate change and the rapid loss of biodiversity. Fortunately, there is another age we are also living in at present, namely the ‘Information Age’, where the Internet, social networks, mobile devices and incredible computing power mean that people and things are being more connected than at any time in the past.

The latter clearly offers humanity a huge opportunity to change the impact of the former, as there is enormous potential for data analytics and technology to play a major role in monitoring, modelling and responding to the challenges of global biodiversity loss and climate change. The rise of the Internet of Things (IoT) in particular, provides us with an opportunity to continuously monitor the pulse of the natural world.

The IoT has taken off, thanks to cost effective, production at scale of high-tech sensors that enable scientists to capture more comprehensive and complete data in a more contextual, frequent and secure manner than was previously possible.

There are, in fact, multitudes of ways that the IoT is enabling more frequent monitoring of the natural environment, and on a much larger spatial scale. Sensors today allow for finer resolution monitoring to take place in previously inaccessible or dangerous locations, as these allow for the automated capture of data. This means that once activated, these devices require minimal further human involvement. It is obvious that solutions such as these offer clear benefits to conservation science and management.

Ultimately, being able to gather and analyse vast amounts of data rapidly will enable humanity to close the environmental loop, as it will allow us to find out what the consequences of our actions are and thus ensure we take smarter actions as a result. Of course, the environment is a vast and complex entity, so the first question we will need to answer is what do we want to measure? Once we know this, we need to decide what we do with this data and – once we have used the data – how we can manage things differently, based on this information.

Real world applications

The good news is that there are scientists and conservationists out there already hard at work using the IoT to answer these questions. Spain offers a fantastic example of how to save a species on the verge of extinction, using technology. At the turn of the century, there were fewer than 100 Iberian lynxes left. Thanks to a cutting edge captive breeding centre, the numbers within this critically endangered species have more than tripled and it is now being reintroduced into safe habitats, as a second stage of this repopulation effort.

Today, these lynxes are tracked with location collars that geo-reference individual animals in the same manner as an asset management system would. This enables scientists to study behavioural uses of space and territories by these animals in the wild. In addition, connected drones are used to provide additional monitoring, to see how they are doing from a distance. The next step is to move away from the current battery-dependant collars to subcutaneous sensors that would remain under the lynx’s skin for its entire lifetime.

Another good example of IoT-related conservation is the efforts being put in place by the Sigfox Foundation. Its parent company, Sigfox, has recently partnered with Dark Fibre Africa to launch SqwidNet, an IoT network that is built on Sigfox technology. The Foundation is currently using connected sensors to assist conservationists in better monitoring rhino populations, since there are only estimated to be around 29 000 individual animals left.

Although still in prototype form, it uses a GPS tracker that is implanted in the horns of the rhinos, which securely sends out three GPS signals per day via the Sigfox network, on a dedicated secured platform. By knowing the exact locations of these animals, the conservationists are thus better able to protect them. The end goal, naturally, is to produce 29 000 connected sensors to monitor all the living rhinos around the world.

Just a few months ago, there was much ado about three male lions that escaped from the Kruger Park. Despite valiant attempts to find and bring them back to the reserve, two were killed by a farmer after he discovered they had killed one of his cattle, and the third was put down by SA National Parks staff.

This sad story serves to illustrate yet again the benefits of location tracking and real-time IoT connectivity. Had these lions been tagged the way the rhinos in the Sigfox project are, it would have been easy to determine where these animals were at any given time, and SAN Parks staff could have darted them and returned them to Kruger long before they attacked any cattle.

Of course, the three examples given above are just some of the more basic methods conservationists are using to improve the natural world. Many others can also be cited, including initiatives whereby drones are being used as an anti-poaching measure, or where GPS-tagged sharks not only provide scientists with invaluable information about the animals themselves, but the tags can also tweet the locations of these fish to nervous beach-goers. Remote camera traps are starting to lead to the discovery or rediscovery of species in inaccessible regions while still others are using this technology to enable the monitoring of illegal fishing.

The IoT and other modern technologies clearly offer humanity the chance to significantly change the game as far as conservation goes, giving us the tools to tackle some of the trickiest problems facing the natural environment. By properly leveraging the benefits of the Information Age, we at last have the opportunity to eliminate some the greatest challenges posed by the Anthropocene Age.

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Prepare your cam to capture the Blood Moon

On 27 July 2018, South Africans can witness a total lunar eclipse, as the earth’s shadow completely covers the moon.

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Also known as a blood or red moon, a total lunar eclipse is the most dramatic of all lunar eclipses and presents an exciting photographic opportunity for any aspiring photographer or would-be astronomers.

“A lunar eclipse is a rare cosmic sight. For centuries these events have inspired wonder, interest and sometimes fear amongst observers. Of course, if you are lucky to be around when one occurs, you would want to capture it all on camera,” says Dana Eitzen, Corporate and Marketing Communications Executive at Canon South Africa.

Canon ambassador and acclaimed landscape photographer David Noton has provided his top tips to keep in mind when photographing this occasion.   In South Africa, the eclipse will be visible from about 19h14 on Friday, 27 July until 01h28 on the Saturday morning. The lunar eclipse will see the light from the sun blocked by the earth as it passes in front of the moon. The moon will turn red because of an effect known as Rayleigh Scattering, where bands of green and violet light become filtered through the atmosphere.

A partial eclipse will begin at 20h24 when the moon will start to turn red. The total eclipse begins at about 21h30 when the moon is completely red. The eclipse reaches its maximum at 22h21 when the moon is closest to the centre of the shadow.

David Noton advises:

  1. Download the right apps to be in-the-know

The sun’s position in the sky at any given time of day varies massively with latitude and season. That is not the case with the moon as its passage through the heavens is governed by its complex elliptical orbit of the earth. That orbit results in monthly, rather than seasonal variations, as the moon moves through its lunar cycle. The result is big differences in the timing of its appearance and its trajectory through the sky. Luckily, we no longer need to rely on weight tables to consult the behaviour of the moon, we can simply download an app on to our phone. The Photographer’s Ephemeris is useful for giving moonrise and moonset times, bearings and phases; while the Photopills app gives comprehensive information on the position of the moon in our sky.  Armed with these two apps, I’m planning to shoot the Blood Moon rising in Dorset, England. I’m aiming to capture the moon within the first fifteen minutes of moonrise so I can catch it low in the sky and juxtapose it against an object on the horizon line for scale – this could be as simple as a tree on a hill.

 

  1. Invest in a lens with optimal zoom  

On the 27th July, one of the key challenges we’ll face is shooting the moon large in the frame so we can see every crater on the asteroid pockmarked surface. It’s a task normally reserved for astronomers with super powerful telescopes, but if you’ve got a long telephoto lens on a full frame DSLR with around 600 mm of focal length, it can be done, depending on the composition. I will be using the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with an EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Ext. 1.4 x lens.

  1. Use a tripod to capture the intimate details

As you frame up your shot, one thing will become immediately apparent; lunar tracking is incredibly challenging as the moon moves through the sky surprisingly quickly. As you’ll be using a long lens for this shoot, it’s important to invest in a sturdy tripod to help capture the best possible image. Although it will be tempting to take the shot by hand, it’s important to remember that your subject is over 384,000km away from you and even with a high shutter speed, the slightest of movements will become exaggerated.

  1. Integrate the moon into your landscape

Whilst images of the moon large in the frame can be beautifully detailed, they are essentially astronomical in their appeal. Personally, I’m far more drawn to using the lunar allure as an element in my landscapes, or using the moonlight as a light source. The latter is difficult, as the amount of light the moon reflects is tiny, whilst the lunar surface is so bright by comparison. Up to now, night photography meant long, long exposures but with cameras such as the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II and the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV now capable of astonishing low light performance, a whole new nocturnal world of opportunities has been opened to photographers.

  1. Master the shutter speed for your subject 

The most evocative and genuine use of the moon in landscape portraits results from situations when the light on the moon balances with the twilight in the surrounding sky. Such images have a subtle appeal, mood and believability.  By definition, any scene incorporating a medium or wide-angle view is going to render the moon as a tiny pin prick of light, but its presence will still be felt. Our eyes naturally gravitate to it, however insignificant it may seem. Of course, the issue of shutter speed is always there; too slow an exposure and all we’ll see is an unsightly lunar streak, even with a wide-angle lens.

 

On a clear night, mastering the shutter speed of your camera is integral to capturing the moon – exposing at 1/250 sec @ f8 ISO 100 (depending on focal length) is what you’ll need to stop the motion from blurring and if you are to get the technique right, with the high quality of cameras such as the Canon EOS 5DS R, you might even be able to see the twelve cameras that were left up there by NASA in the 60’s!

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How Africa can embrace AI

Currently, no African country is among the top 10 countries expected to benefit most from AI and automation. But, the continent has the potential to catch up with the rest of world if we act fast, says ZOAIB HOOSEN, Microsoft Managing Director.

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To play catch up, we must take advantage of our best and most powerful resource – our human capital. According to a report by the World Economic Forum (WEF), more than 60 percent of the population in sub-Saharan Africa is under the age of 25.

These are the people who are poised to create a future where humans and AI can work together for the good of society. In fact, the most recent WEF Global Shapers survey found that almost 80 percent of youth believe technology like AI is creating jobs rather than destroying them.

Staying ahead of the trends to stay employed

AI developments are expected to impact existing jobs, as AI can replicate certain activities at greater speed and scale. In some areas, AI could learn faster than humans, if not yet as deeply.

According to Gartner, while AI will improve the productivity of many jobs and create millions more new positions, it could impact many others. The simpler and less creative the job, the earlier, a bot for example, could replace it.

It’s important to stay ahead of the trends and find opportunities to expand our knowledge and skills while learning how to work more closely and symbiotically with technology.

Another global study by Accenture, found that the adoption of AI will create several new job categories requiring important and yet surprising skills. These include trainers, who are tasked with teaching AI systems how to perform; explainers, who bridge the gap between technologist and business leader; and sustainers, who ensure that AI systems are operating as designed.

It’s clear that successfully integrating human intelligence with AI, so they co-exist in a two-way learning relationship, will become more critical than ever.

Combining STEM with the arts

Young people have a leg up on those already in the working world because they can easily develop the necessary skills for these new roles. It’s therefore essential that our education system constantly evolves to equip youth with the right skills and way of thinking to be successful in jobs that may not even exist yet.

As the division of tasks between man and machine changes, we must re-evaluate the type of knowledge and skills imparted to future generations.

For example, technical skills will be required to design and implement AI systems, but interpersonal skills, creativity and emotional intelligence will also become crucial in giving humans an advantage over machines.

“At one level, AI will require that even more people specialise in digital skills and data science. But skilling-up for an AI-powered world involves more than science, technology, engineering and math. As computers behave more like humans, the social sciences and humanities will become even more important. Languages, art, history, economics, ethics, philosophy, psychology and human development courses can teach critical, philosophical and ethics-based skills that will be instrumental in the development and management of AI solutions.” This is according to Microsoft president, Brad Smith, and EVP of AI and research, Harry Shum, who recently authored the book “The Future Computed”, which primarily deals with AI and its role in society.

Interestingly, institutions like Stanford University are already implementing this forward-thinking approach. The university offers a programme called CS+X, which integrates its computer science degree with humanities degrees, resulting in a Bachelor of Arts and Science qualification.

Revisiting laws and regulation

For this type of evolution to happen, the onus is on policy makers to revisit current laws and even bring in new regulations. Policy makers need to identify the groups most at risk of losing their jobs and create strategies to reintegrate them into the economy.

Simultaneously, though AI could be hugely beneficial in areas such as curbing poor access to healthcare and improving diagnoses for example, physicians may avoid using this technology for fear of malpractice. To avoid this, we need regulation that closes the gap between the pace of technological change and that of regulatory response. It will also become essential to develop a code of ethics for this new ecosystem.

Preparing for the future

With the recent convergence of a transformative set of technologies, economies are entering a period in which AI has the potential overcome physical limitations and open up new sources of value and growth.

To avoid missing out on this opportunity, policy makers and business leaders must prepare for, and work toward, a future with AI. We must do so not with the idea that AI is simply another productivity enhancer. Rather, we must see AI as the tool that can transform our thinking about how growth is created.

It comes down to a choice of our people and economies being part of the technological disruption, or being left behind.

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