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AI start-ups win in Merc innovation challenge

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Three artificial intelligence start-ups were the winners of the Mercedes-Benz South Africa Innovation Challenge.

Nine finalists presented their innovative ideas at a final selection event in the MBSA East London plant – the culmination of a unique partnership between MBSA, the LaunchLab and STARTUP AUTOBAHN that kicked off at the end of August this year.

The two winners in the manufacturing category were DataProphet, a group of machine learning specialists which provides A.I./ML development through corporate partnerships with the aim of delivering bleeding-edge machine solutions, and Vizbility Insight, an artificial Intelligence company specialising in globally scaleable predictive and prescriptive risk management software.

The winner in the sales and marketing category was NumberBoost, a startup that builds machine learning and artificial intelligence applications.

DataProphet was the overall winner.

These category winners each receive R300 000 to pilot their idea for future use within MBSA. DataProphet will also travel to Europe next year to pitch the innovative idea in front of hundreds of automotive decision makers at a big STARTUP AUTOBAHN event in Germany.

“I am highly impressed with the innovative solutions that were displayed at the MBSA Innovation Challenge,” said Markus Schäfer, Member of the Divisional Board Mercedes-Benz Cars, Manufacturing and Supply Chain for Daimler AG, MBSA’s parent company. “South Africa has some serious talent. The presentations were absolutely awesome and provided real solutions to the tasks that we face as a company. I congratulate all start-ups that presented at this event.”

The Mercedes-Benz South Africa Innovation Challenge targeted two streams. It asked interested students and professionals (as a first stream) and existing startups (as a second stream) to pitch innovative ideas to revolutionise the automotive manufacturing and marketing and sales environment.

“From an MBSA perspective, this challenge is crucial in that it will assist us in increasing agility while developing internal capability that changes organisational culture and the way we work,” said Andreas Engling MBSA CEO and executive director for manufacturing. “Most importantly, these innovative ideas will allow us to respond to changes and adapt to new market challenges quicker. In this process, we can increase our productivity.”

Innovation has always been a key to success for the automotive sector. In a world where disruption reigns and new opportunities need to be seized, innovation will be even more important in future.

Anne Knierim, senior manager for technology management and research policy and head of STARTUP AUTOBAHN, Daimler AG, said: “STARTUP AUTOBAHN globally scouts startups and matches them to the right colleagues within Daimler. I am impressed about the passion and capabilities of the South African startups in the challenge and I am really excited about the results we will see during the next months.”

The challenge also aims to provide a gateway for existing startups to grow and sustain their businesses.

MBSA will extend the opportunity for the student stream into 2018, to determine who will get the opportunity to be enrolled by the LaunchLab in its Lift-Off Programme for an initial three-month period. The Lift-Off Programme will be facilitated from the Nedbank Stellenbosch University LaunchLab, in Stellenbosch.

“This is what the LaunchLab is all about: facilitating valuable connections for startups and corporates for their mutual benefit,” said Philip Marais, CEO of the LaunchLab. “Through this Innovation Challenge, South African startups can have a global impact. Financial support from MBSA and support from high-profile representatives from Daimler and MBSA has really raised the profile of this event and helped to make it a great success. Well done to the winners.”

Ends.

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Meet Aston Martin F1’s incredible moving data centre

The Aston Martin Red Bull Racing team faces a great deal more IT challenges than your average enterprise as not many IT teams have to rebuild their data center 21 times each year and get it running it up in a matter of hours. Not many data centers are packed up and transported around the world by air and sea along with 45 tonnes of equipment. Not many IT technicians also have to perform a dual role as pit stop mechanic.

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The trackside garage at an F1 race is a tight working environment and a team of only two IT technicians face pressure from both the factory and trackside staff to get the trackside IT up and running very fast. Yet, despite all these pressures, Aston Martin Red Bull Racing do not have a cloud-led strategy. Instead they have chosen to keep all IT in house.

The reason for this is performance. F1 is arguably the ultimate performance sport. A walk round the team’s factory in Milton Keynes, England, makes it abundantly clear that the whole organization is hell bent on maximizing performance. 700 staff at the factory are all essentially dedicated to the creation of just two cars. The level of detail that is demanded in reaching peak performance is truly mind blowing. For example, one machine with a robotic arm that checks the dimensions of the components built at the factory is able to measure accuracy to a scale 10 times thinner than a human hair.

This quest for maximum performance, however, is hampered at every turn by the stringent rules from the F1 governing body – the FIA. Teams face restrictions on testing and technology usage in order to prevent the sport becoming an arms race. So, for example, pre-season track testing is limited to only 8 days. Furthermore, wind tunnel testing is only allowed with 60% scale models and wind tunnel-usage is balanced with the use of Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) software, essentially a virtual wind tunnel. Teams that overuse one, lose time with the other.

In order to maximize performance within uniquely difficult logistical and regulatory conditions, the Aston Martin Red Bull Racing team has had to deploy a very powerful and agile IT estate.

According to Neil Bailey, Head of IT Infrastructure, Enterprise Architecture and Innovation, their legacy trackside infrastructure was “creaking”. Before choosing hyperconverged infrastructure, their “traditional IT had reached its limits”, says Bailey. “When things reach their limits they break, just like a car,” adds Bailey.

The team’s biggest emphasis for switching to HPE’s hyperconverged infrastructure, SimpliVity, was performance. Now, with “the extra performance of SimpliVity, it means it doesn’t get to its limits,” says Bailey. HPE SimpliVity has helped reduce space, has optimized processing power and brought more agility.

One of the first and most important use cases they switched to hyperconverged infrastructure was post-processing trackside data. During a race weekend each car is typically fitted with over 100 sensors providing key data on things like tyre temperature and downforce multiple times per second. Processing this data and acting on the insights is key to driving performance improvements. With their legacy infrastructure, Bailey says they were “losing valuable track time during free practice waiting for data processing to take place.” Since switching to HPE SimpliVity, data processing has dropped from being more than 15 minutes to less than 5 minutes. Overall, the team has seen a 79% performance boost compared to the legacy architecture. This has allowed for real time race strategy analysis and has improved race strategy decision making.

Data insights helps the team stay one step ahead, as race strategy decisions are data driven. For example, real time tyre temperature data helps the team judge tyre wear and make pit stop decisions. Real time access to tyre data helped the team to victory at the 2018 Chinese Grand Prix as the Aston Martin Red Bull cars pitted ahead of the rest of the field and Daniel Ricciardo swept to a memorable victory.

Hyperconverged infrastructure is also well suited to the “hostile” trackside environment, according to Bailey. With hyperconverged infrastructure, only two racks are needed at each race of which SimpliVity only takes up about 20% of the space, thus freeing up key space in very restricted trackside garages. Furthermore, with the team limited to 60 staff at each race, only two of Bailey’s team can travel. The reduction in equipment and closer integration of HPE SimpliVity means engineers can get the trackside data center up and running quickly and allow trackside staff to start work as soon as they arrive.

Since seeing the notable performance gains from using hyperconverged infrastructure for trackside data processing, the team has also transitioned some of the factory’s IT estate over to HPE SimpliVity. This includes: Aerodynamic metrics, ERP system, SQL server, exchange server and the team’s software house, the Team Foundation Server.

As well as seeing huge performance benefits, HPE SimpliVity has significantly impacted the work patterns of Bailey’s team of just ten. According to Bailey, the biggest operational win from hyperconverged infrastructure is “freeing up engineers’ time from focusing on ‘business as usual’ to innovation.” Traditional IT took up too much of the engineers’ time monitoring systems and just keeping things running. Now with HPE SimpliVity, Bailey’s team can “give the business more and quicker” and “be more creative with how they use technology.”

Hyperconverged infrastructure has given Aston Martin Red Bull Racing the speed, scalability and agility they require without any need to turn to the cloud. It allows them to deliver more and more resources to trackside staff in an increasingly responsive manner. However, even with all these performance gains, Aston Martin Red Bull Racing has been able to reduce IT costs. So, the users are happy, the finance director is happy and the IT team are happy because their jobs are easier. Hyperconvergence is clearly the right choice for the unique challenges of Formula 1 racing.

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Body-tracking tech moves to assembly line

Technology typically used by the world’s top sport stars to raise their game, or ensure their signature skills are accurately replicated in leading video games, is now being used on an auto assembly line.

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Employees at Ford’s Valencia Engine Assembly Plant, in Spain, are using a special suit equipped with advanced body tracking technology. The pilot system, created by Ford and the Instituto Biomecánica de Valencia, has involved 70 employees in 21 work areas. 

Player motion technology usually records how athletes sprint or turn, enabling sport coaches or game developers to unlock the potential of sport stars in the real world or on screen. Ford is using it to design less physically stressful workstations for enhanced manufacturing quality.

“It’s been proven on the sports field that with motion tracking technology, tiny adjustments to the way you move can have a huge benefit,” said Javier Gisbert, production area manager, Ford Valencia Engine Assembly Plant. “For our employees, changes made to work areas using similar technology can ultimately ensure that, even on a long day, they are able to work comfortably.”

Engineers took inspiration from a suit they saw at a trade fair that demonstrated how robots could replicate human movement and then applied it to their workplace, where production of the  new Ford Transit Connect and 2.0-litre EcoBoost Duratec engines began this month.

The skin-tight suit consists of 15 tiny movement tracking light sensors connected to a wireless detection unit. The system tracks how the person moves at work, highlighting head, neck, shoulder and limb movements. Movement is recorded by four specialised motion-tracking cameras – similar to those usually paired with computer game consoles – placed near the worker and captured as a 3D skeletal character animation of the user.

Specially trained ergonomists then use the data to help employees align their posture correctly. Measurements captured by the system, such as an employee’s height or arm length, are used to design workstations, so they better fit employees. 

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