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Roadmap to the next big thing

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In less than a decade, Tel Aviv has become the second biggest start-up hub in the world. Now it’s poised to take on Silicon Valley in the quest for the next big thing in high-tech, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

The line-up at last week’s Digital-Life-Design (DLD) innovation festival in Tel Aviv was as astonishing as the high-tech explosion that has placed the city at the epicentre of the information revolution.

The inventor of the USB flash drive, the founder of global navigation app Waze, and a former president of Israel who won the Nobel Prize and helped inspire the electric vehicle revolution all shared their visions of the next big thing.

But it was Steffi Czerny, who founded DLD in Germany, who offered the overriding perspective on the significance of the event: “If you want to see what’s next, come to Israel,” she told an audience that included delegates from several dozen countries.

The event attracts start-up entrepreneurs, high-tech giants like Intel and Microsoft, and government trade representatives from countries like France and the Netherlands. Two start-ups from South Africa, WhereIsMyTransport and Funda, were there as regional winners of a global startup contest.

All delegates were alert for either the next big investment opportunity or the next big thing in technology. Most of all, they were on the outlook for the technology that will shape the future.

As a result, it is not only the new ideas and apps that make an impact at DLD, but also the ideas that will shape the future. Ironically, many of these ideas come from arguably the oldest man at the event: 91-year-old former Israeli president Shimon Peres, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and one of the main drivers of Israeli investment in research and development for the past 50 years. His passion for electric vehicles has been an inspiration for research into battery technology and the electric grid.

His thoughts on what it takes to predict the future in themselves help to understand what will be important in the future: “We can predict things up to a point,” he told the audience. “To do that we need maximum information. And for that we need a combination of a human being with imagination, and infinite patience.”

Asked to make three predictions for the next big area of technology breakthrough, he had no hesitation: “The first domain will be about medicine. The second will be about sharing; instead of having our own houses and car, we will share most things, as we do with shared rides and accommodation today. It will change our assumptions of capitalism. Then I can see a third change that is particularly important: robotics.”

He struck a cautionary note, however, warning against an obsession with technology for its own sake.

“We invest so much in robotics that is not being invested in human beings. The human being produces thoughts, which means the human being is superior to the robot. Why make a better robot instead of a better human being?”

His conclusion: “The human being has a long way to go.”

Not that there was a shortage of start-ups and established companies trying to show the way. Tel Aviv has the distinction of having more startups per capita than any economic hub in the world outside Silicon Valley. Of around 3400 startups in Israel, 972 are in Tel Aviv. With 40 per cent growth in number of tech startups since 2012, some suggest it may even overtake Silicon Valley.

The city also hosts 49 research and development centres for multinational organisations like Google and Facebook, and 58 co-working spaces and startup accelerators.

Those may sound like mere numbers, but they add up to an equation that begins to explain Israel’s impact on the high-tech world. One of the smallest yet most revolutionary technologies originating there, the USB flash drive, was invented by Dov Moran and his company, M-Systems. It’s $1,6bn sale to SanDisk in 2006 still ranks as one of the biggest ever acquisitions of an Israeli high-tech company

“It’s about opportunity,” Moran said in a panel discussion at DLD.  “It grows and grows and grows, and every success brings us new entrepreneurs who then know what to do next.”

He, too, offered a forecast for the next huge thing or two: “The industry of self-driven cars, and the effect of genome research on health, are going to change the world.”

A slightly different perspective came from Shahar Waiser, founder and CEO of Israel’s answer to Uber, a taxi app called Gett that is now also available in New York, London and Moscow. Revenue has been growing at 300 per cent a year for the past three years, and it is likely to be one of the next “unicorns” – startups with a valuation of $1-billion a year.

The one area where we won’t see a unicorn, said Waiser, was telecommunications. Quite simply, the big unicorns like WhatsApp and Facebook have cut short the meteoric growth in profits we once saw from telcos.

But it goes beyond just the industry sector, he said: “It’s very difficult if take something with both a digital and offline component and scale it. There is no company with a telecommunications component, where it has more than $100-million in revenues, that keeps growing at the kind of 300 per cent growth we are seeing.

“Food research is one area where we may see unicorns emerge. Transportation is another.”

In short, sectors that address urgent human needs.

And it means that, from food to medicine to the sharing economy, the DLD festival put several signposts on the roadmap to a future that will confirm one of the oldest rules of innovation: “Necessity is the mother of invention.”

* Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee, and subscribe to his YouTube channel at http://bit.ly/GGadgets

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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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