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Saving us from plastic soup

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One afternoon, whilst enjoying a cup of coffee at the V&A Waterfront, Richard Hardiman witnessed something that would change his life. He watched two men in a boat, armed with nothing but a pool-net, taking plastic trash out of the water. He recalls, “the wind and tide were pushing vast amounts of rubbish out to sea, and the men didn’t seem to be getting much of it into the boat”. The frustrating inefficiency of this process really bothered Hardiman and he couldn’t let go of the thought “surely, there must be a better way to do that”.

Fuelled by curiosity, he began researching how large cities remove trash from their waterways, and he discovered that there was no other way of doing it. Four years later, Hardiman leads Ranmarine, a tech start-up in Cape Town and Rotterdam, inventor of the WasteShark. This remote controlled nautical drone cleans water surfaces in harbours by scooping up waste. Hardiman realised that 80% of plastic waste in the ocean comes from harbours, marinas, ports, and storm water drains and the WasteShark is designed to target these areas.

Currently there are ten WasteSharks being tested around the world, in India, the Netherlands, the USA and Cape Town’s V&A harbour. The compact and agile WasteShark can remove 350kg of waste at a time and can swim for 16 hours a day. It has no carbon emissions and does not harm wildlife. It can also be customised to scoop up chemical spills. Apart from picking up trash, it collects valuable data. Hardiman explains, “sensors collect data on water depth, chemical composition and salinity – that’s very exciting from a technological point of view. We can really investigate the quality of our water”.

What began as curiosity turned into “accidental environmentalism” as Hardiman’s research revealed the state of the world’s oceans. “I began to worry for the safety of our planet.  I realised that 8 million tons of plastic go into the ocean every year – and this will get worse, tenfold, over the next decade. By 2025 there will be more pieces of plastic in the ocean than there are fish. Our oceans are becoming plastic soup.” He says this threatens our sea life and our food chain. “Fish are eating the plastic, and this is returning to us on our plates.”

This sparked Hardiman’s sense of social responsibility. “I knew I had to do something. I guess I developed a guilty conscience, but it spurred me to act, to put my entrepreneurial streak to good use. Also, work is much more meaningful when you are contributing to the greater good”.

Hardiman does not have a maritime or technological background. He began his career as a journalist and moved into radio, as a DJ on KFM and a director at 2OceansVibe, an online radio station. He always wanted to be more entrepreneurial and completed his Postgraduate Diploma in Business Administration at the GSB in 2009. He says, “going back to study was a seminal moment for me, I knew I wanted to create something, to do more”.

“The GSB is very close to my heart – without it I wouldn’t have had the ability to put a team together, to run a business or to make this happen. The classes and group work gave me the necessary skills, grounding and confidence to flee the nest of a safe job and become an entrepreneur.”

The WasteShark was inspired by the Disney Pixar character WALL-E, a robot left to clean up earth after humans have gone to live on other planets. Hardiman says he loved WALL-E’s sense of dedication, his determination to do the jobs humans don’t want to do. He acknowledges that there is a lot of fear around AI and robotics potentially taking away employment. “Because the WasteShark is born in Africa, I am very aware of not wanting to take away anyone’s job. Actually, the ports we work in are not comfortable with autonomous vessels as these are heavily congested areas”. Each WasteShark provides employment as it requires a remote control operator. “We’ve specifically invested in intuitive design for the controls so that anyone without technological experience can operate it. The WasteShark is a drone but it’s designed for humans”.

In a TedxTalk, Hardiman quotes Jacques Cousteau, the famous marine explorer and conservationist, saying “people protect what they love”. What Hardiman may not know is that Cousteau also said, “when one man, for whatever reason, has the opportunity to lead an extraordinary life, he has no right to keep it to himself”. This certainly describes Hardiman’s remarkable journey.

* Written by Bradley Greef

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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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