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SA joins the dots for the Smart City

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The concept of a smart city is a grand vision of an urban future, seemingly unattainable in South Africa, but the dots are beginning to be joined, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

What do public Wi-Fi in Tshwane, smart meters for utilities in Johannesburg, and an app for public transport in Cape Town have in common?

All mark the beginnings of the evolution, in South Africa, of the smart city. This is both a concept and a strategy that sees data and communications technology used to coordinate transport, public safety and access to services. The goal of the strategy is simple, yet enormously challenging: sustainable economic development in order to improve quality of life in the city.

But this is not merely an ideal: it is a necessity.

“By 2050, close to eight out of 10 South Africans will be living in one of the country’s cities,” says Mark Walker, head of Africa at the International Data Corporation (IDC). “The growth of cities goes hand in hand with growth in Gross Domestic Product (GDP), but it increases traffic and pollution, which in turn decreases growth. Technology is the magic sauce that drives efficiency, and addresses constraints of resources and budget.”

Walker points out that the use of technology as a means to enable service delivery, to communicate with the population, and for citizens to voice commentary, has already become invaluable. Over the next 10 to 15 years, the changing nature of the urban population will make it critical.

In response to the emerging need, the IDC has worked with global storage giant EMC to develop a smart cities maturity model geared to the needs and constraints of African cities.

“Cities are fundamental to the economic development,” says Jonas Bogoshi, country manager of EMC Southern Africa. “The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development identified the fact that cities are cardinal for socially, economically and environmentally sustainable societies.”

The big challenge is that the rate of urbanisation is faster than the rate of economic growth, says Bogoshi.

“You have to look for solutions, otherwise you will decay. You have to look for partners, otherwise we will all fail.”

The ultimate goals for Smart Cities, says Walker, are very clear.

“Where smart cities are successfully implemented, as in Singapore and Dubai, we see very strong, coordinated and integrated initiatives taking place, and we see a definite increase in economic growth. Some of that is based on efficiency, but a lot comes from the creation of new value streams and innovation. However, operational efficiency is key to that growth.”

While it appears that the smart city is all about technology, a crucial element of smart city strategy is that the citizen must be at its core.

“The citizen is what really counts,” says Walker. “If it is not delivering the services the citizen requires, you’re wasting money. The key performance indicators must be designed from the citizen up.”

The IDC/EMC model is broken up into five stages of smart city maturity, with Stage 1 labelled Ad Hoc and comprising “Technology-enabled project successes; proof of concept and business case via return on investment from pilot projects.”

Most South African initiatives are still at this stage, with free Wi-Fi experiments in cities like Tshwane, Johannesburg, Cape Town and Bloemfontein being the prime examples.

However, elements of Stage 2, labeled Opportunistic, can also be seen in projects that take advantage of emerging capabilities to meet immediate needs. The roll-out of 92 000 smart meters for measuring utility use remotely in Johannesburg and the use of apps like WhereIsMyTransport to coordinate access to public transport in Cape Town are among a variety of examples that lie between Stage 1 and 2.

In Stage 3, such projects must become Repeatable, based on proven success, return on investment and improved efficiencies. In Stage 4, the city moves to a Managed model of smart services delivery.

The two key questions that city managers and decision-makers must ask at this stage are:

  • Have you developed cross-departmental work groups for service delivery beyond emergencies, events and disaster management?
  • Have you developed outcomes-focused metrics by which processes, staff, and outcomes are measured to ensure that goals are being met?

Finally, in Stage 5, or the Optimised stage, the city is required to create a centralised team that takes charge of continuous improvements in process as well as refining and improving on methodology for governance and measurements.  Only very few cities in the world, such as Singapore, are on the edge of Stage 5.

“In South Africa we are somewhere between stage 1 and 2,” says Walker. “A lot of initiatives labelled Smart City are very point-based, project-based, and constrained by budget and scope, involving only a few stakeholders. Often, it is coordinated at departmental level only rather than across a city or region. The Gautrain is a good example, where traffic is being managed in a smart way, but why aren’t they working with the City of Joburg and with the Gauteng province as a whole?”

For now, he says, it typically takes three to five years to move from stage 1 to 2, and 15 years to go from Stage 1 to 5 – if an integrated plan is in place. The longer a city waits before it begins planning, of course, the longer it will take to get to the ultimate goal of the smart city.

  • 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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Jaguar drives dictionary definition

Jaguar is calling for the Oxford English Dictionary and Oxford Dictionaries to update their online definition of the word ‘car’

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Jaguar is spearheading a campaign for the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) and Oxford Dictionaries (OxfordDictionaries.com) to change their official online definitions of the word ‘car’.

The I-PACE, Jaguar’s all-electric performance SUV, is the 2019 World Car of the Year and European Car of the Year. However, strictly speaking, the zero-emission vehicle isn’t defined as a car.

The OED, the principal historical dictionary of the English language, defines a ‘car’ in its online dictionary as: ‘a road vehicle powered by a motor (usually an internal combustion engine) designed to carry a driver and a small number of passengers, and usually having two front and two rear wheels, esp. for private, commercial, or leisure use’.

Whereas the current definition of a ‘car’ on Oxford Dictionaries.com, a collection of dictionary websites produced by Oxford University Press (OUP), the publishing house of the University of Oxford, is: ‘A road vehicle, typically with four wheels, powered by an internal combustion engine and able to carry a small number of people.’

To remedy the situation, Jaguar has submitted a formal application to the OED and OxfordDictionaries.com to have the definitions updated to include additional powertrains, including electric vehicles (EV).

David Browne, head of Jaguar Land Rover’s naming committee, said: “A lot of time and thought is put into the name of any new vehicle or technology to ensure it is consumer friendly, so it’s surprising to see that the definition of the car is a little outdated. We are therefore inviting the Oxford English Dictionary and the Oxford Dictionaries to update its online classification to reflect the shift from traditional internal combustion engines (ICE) towards more sustainable powertrains.”

The Oxford English Dictionary is widely regarded as the accepted authority on the English language. It is an unsurpassed guide to the meaning, history, and pronunciation of 600,000 words – past and present – from across the English-speaking world.

Jaguar unveiled the I-PACE, its first all-electric vehicle, last year to deliver sustainable sports car performance, next-generation artificial intelligence (AI) technology and five-seat SUV practicality.

Featuring a state-of-the-art 90kWh lithium-ion battery, two Jaguar-designed motors and a bespoke aluminium structure, the I-PACE is capable of 0-100km/h in 4.8 seconds and a range of up to 470km (WLTP).

While both the Oxford English Dictionary and Oxford Dictionaries review the application, Jaguar is encouraging people to get behind the campaign by asking how the word ‘car’ should be defined. Contact Jaguar on TwitterFacebook and Instagram using #RedefineTheCar with your thoughts.

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How Internet blocks visually impaired

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Picture: Amelie-Benoist / Getty Images

A pervasive “digital divide” inhibits blind people from accessing the Internet, according to a study conducted by Nucleus Research for Deque Systems, an accessibility software company specialising in digital equality. This results in visits to websites being abandoned, further resulting in a missed market opportunity for the websites in question.

The study, which conducted in-depth interviews with 73 U.S. adults who are blind or have severe visual impairments, revealed that two-thirds of the Internet transactions initiated by people with vision impairments end in abandonment because the websites they visit aren’t accessible enough. Ninety percent of those surveyed said they regularly call a site’s customer service to report inaccessibility and have no choice but to visit another, more accessible site to make the transaction.

The Nucleus study also scanned hundreds of websites in the e-commerce, news and information and government categories and found that 70 percent had certain “critical blockers” that rendered them inaccessible to visually impaired users.

“Besides the moral dilemma and legal risk, businesses with inaccessible websites are missing a huge revenue opportunity by ignoring an untapped market,” says Preety Kumar, CEO of Deque Systems. “Among internet retailers specifically, two-thirds of the top ten online retailers had serious accessibility issues, meaning they are leaving $6.9 billion in potential North American e-commerce revenues on the table.”

Web accessibility refers to the ability of people with disabilities to independently gather information, complete transactions, or communicate on the Internet. Most visually impaired Internet users rely on assistive technologies like screen readers or screen magnifiers to render sites perceivable and operable. However, these assistive technologies require that websites be built with accessibility in mind and optimized to interface with assistive technology, in order to convey information in an accurate and understandable manner.

Critical accessibility blockers can vary across industries. In e-commerce, problems include issues like missing form and button labels (thereby making forms or the “checkout” button invisible without context). Amazon, Best Buy and Target were found to be accessibility leaders in this space. Additionally, the study found:

  • Eight out of ten news sites had significant accessibility issues.
  • Seven out of ten blind persons reported being unable to access information and services through government websites, including Medicare’s site.
  • Fewer than one in three websites have clear contact information or instructions for blind persons to seek help if they encounter accessibility issues, meaning many have low levels of success in reporting and solving these problems.

“A focus on accessibility needs to be a core part of the website design and development process,” continues Kumar. “Considering accessibility as early as the conception phase, and proactively building and testing sites for accessibility as they move towards production, is significantly more effective than remediating it later, helping organizations save significant time and resources while avoiding unnecessary customer grievances.”

To download the report, visit: https://accessibility.deque.com/nucleus-accessibility-research-2019

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