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Amazon expands in SA

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Amazon has announced it is expanding its presence in South Africa by adding a new office in Johannesburg for Amazon Web Services South Africa.

The new office joins the established Amazon Development Center Cape Town, which has been in operation since 2004 and develops technology for several Amazon businesses, including Amazon Web Services (AWS). As part of this expansion, Amazon also announced that it plans to hire more than 250 people in the next 12 months to fill highly-skilled technical roles that will be based in both locations.

The new Johannesburg office has been launched to support the growing customer base of AWS. The office is now open and operational and is supporting organisations of all sizes, from start-ups to the country’s oldest and most established enterprises and public sector organisations, as they make the transition to the AWS cloud. The new office will have account managers, solutions architects, partner managers and various other functions for South African customers to directly engage with AWS. South African customers looking to learn more about working with AWS should visit aws.amazon.com/south-africa.

This news comes as Amazon celebrates over ten years in South Africa. Amazon first established a presence in the country by opening a development center in December 2004 to help build the Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) service. Many of the more than 250 new roles in South Africa will be based here and will work on Amazon EC2 as well as the engineering of other new services as well as pioneering networking technologies and next generation cloud software.

“Amazon has been an active contributor to the South African technology community for over a decade,” said Steve Midgley, Head of EMEA, Amazon Web Services. “Over this time we have seen some key technologies of the AWS cloud emerge from the country so it is no surprise we are also seeing strong growth amongst African organisations moving to the cloud. Choosing to locate an AWS office in South Africa speaks to the rapidly growing customer base, the broad set of talent here and the investment we are making to support cloud adoption around the world. By expanding our presence in South Africa, and through hiring highly skilled staff, we intend to further accelerate the growth of our cloud customers in Africa and around the globe.”

South African organisations were amongst the earliest adopters of cloud services when AWS launched in 2006. Customers based in South Africa are using AWS to run everything from development and test environments to big data analytics, from mobile, web and social applications to enterprise business applications, public sector and mission critical workloads. AWS now counts some of Africa’s fastest growing businesses as customers including, Entersekt, PayGate and Travelstart as well as established enterprises such as Adcorp and Medscheme.

One African enterprise business that is working with AWS to develop new revenue streams for their organisation is telecoms giant MTN. “AWS expanding their presence in South Africa is great news for the entire African business community,” said Mteto Nyati, CEO of MTN Group. “At MTN, our purpose is to enable and inspire growth on the African continent. By working with a global technology leader such as AWS, MTN is better placed to enable customers to grow their businesses. The relationship with AWS is an important part of our plans to address the needs of enterprise customers in emerging markets, particularly Africa.”

Another large company that is welcoming AWS expansion in Africa is Standard Bank. As one of the largest banks in Africa, Standard Bank understands the power cloud computing has to help the South African economy. “Amazon’s growing presence in the country and the region is something that we at Standard Bank are especially pleased to see,” said Mike Murphy, Executive Head: Group Technology Build, Standard Bank. “The opportunities that AWS’ portfolio of services present to a company like ours, and the local business community, are substantial. When leveraged wisely these cloud technologies give South African companies of all sizes the opportunity to speed up innovation and expand their businesses to compete globally”.

An example of a South African company that is using AWS to grow their business globally is Travelstart. Travelstart is Africa’s largest travel booking website offering flights, hotel bookings, car rental, vacation packages and a range of insurance services. The company operates in more than 15 countries across Africa and the Middle East. “Hearing there is now an AWS office in South Africa is great news for us,” said Anders Bäck, CTO from Travelstart. “Thanks to the pay-as-you-go nature of AWS we have been able to grow our Middle Eastern websites in leaps and bounds while reducing operating costs. By using AWS we have reduced down time by 25% and were able to take on a multi-continent expansion in an agile manner. Without the scalability of AWS, and the support of their team, we would not have been able to achieve this and with an office it should help us even further.”

This news comes as Amazon continues its investment in, and expansion, across Europe, the Middle East and Africa. In 2014 Amazon created over 6,000 new jobs in the region. The new, highly skilled roles being announced today will be based in Cape Town and Johannesburg and include: Software Development Engineers; Network Development Engineers; Support Engineers; Technical Account Managers; Systems Engineers; Solutions Architects and many more. People looking to apply for a role in South Africa, or any of Amazon’s businesses around the world, can apply online at www.amazon.jobs.

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Kenya tool to help companies prepare for emergencies

After its team members survived last week’s Nairobi terror attack, Ushahidi decided to release a new preparedness tool for free, writes its CEO, NAT MANNING

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On Tuesday I woke up a bit before 7am in Berkeley, California where I live. I made some coffee and went over to my computer to start my work day. I checked my Slack and the news and quickly found out that there was an ongoing terrorist attack at 14 Riverside Complex in Nairobi, Kenya. The Ushahidi office is in Nairobi and about a third of our team is based there (the rest of us are spread across 10 other countries).

As I read the news, my heart plummeted, and I immediately asked the question, “is everyone on my team okay?”

Five years ago Al-Shabaab committed a similar attack at the Westgate Mall. We spent several tense hours figuring out if any of our team had been in the mall, and verifying that everyone was safe. We found out that one of our team member’s family was caught up in the attack. Luckily they made it out.

At Ushahidi we make software for crisis response, including tools to map disasters and election violence, and yet we felt helpless in the face of this attack. In the days following the Westgate attack, our team huddled and thought about what we could build that would help our team — and other teams — if we found ourselves in a similar situation to this attack again. We identified that when we first learned of the attack, nearly everyone at Ushahidi had spent that first precious few hours trying to answer the basic questions, “Is everyone okay?”, and if not, “Who needs help?” 

People had ad-hoc used multiple channels such as WhatsApp, called, emailed, or texted. We had done this for each person at Ushahidi (their job), in our families, and important people in our community. Our process was unorganised, inefficient, repetitive, and frustrating.

And from this problem we created TenFour, a check in tool that makes it easier for teams to reach one another during times of crisis. It is a simple application that lets people send a message to their team via SMS, Slack, Voice, email, and in-app, and get a response. It also works for educational institutions, companies with distributed staff, as well as part of neighbourhood networks like neighbourhood watches.

This week when I woke up to the news of the attack at Riverside, I immediately opened up the TenFour app.

Click here to read how Nat quickly confirmed the safety of his team.

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Kia multi-collision airbags

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The world’s first multi-collision airbag system has been unveiled by Hyundai Motor Group subsidiary KIA Motors, with the aim of improving airbag performance in multi-collision accidents.

Multi-collision accidents are those in which the primary impact is followed by collisions with secondary objects, such as other vehicles, trees, or electrical posts, which occur in three out of every 10 accidents. Current airbag systems do not offer secondary protection when the initial impact is insufficient to cause them to deploy. 

However, the multi-collision airbag system allows airbags to deploy effectively upon a secondary impact, by calibrating the status of the vehicle and the occupants.

The new technology detects occupants’ positions in the cabin following an initial collision. When occupants are forced into unusual positions, the effectiveness of existing safety technology may be compromised. Multi-collision airbag systems are designed to deploy even faster when initial safety systems may not be effective, providing additional safety when drivers and passengers are most vulnerable. By recalibrating the collision intensity required for deployment, the airbag system responds more promptly during the secondary impact, thereby improving the safety of multi-collision vehicle occupants.

“By improving airbag performance in multi-collision scenarios, we expect to significantly improve the safety of our drivers and passengers,” said Taesoo Chi, head of the Hyundai Motor Group’s Chassis Technology Centre. “We will continue our research on more diverse crash situations as part of our commitment to producing even safer vehicles that protect occupants and prevent injuries.”

According to statistics by the National Automotive Sampling System Crashworthiness Data System (NASS-CDS), an office of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in USA, about 30% of 56,000 vehicle accidents from 2000 to 2012 in the North American region involved multi-collisions. The leading type of multi-collision accidents involved cars crossing over the centre line (30.8%), followed by collisions caused by a sudden stop at highway tollgates (13.5%), highway median strip collisions (8.0%), and sideswiping and collision with trees and electric poles (4.0%). 

These multi-collision scenarios were analysed in multilateral ways to improve airbag performance and precision in secondary collisions. Once commercialised, the system will be implemented in future new KIA vehicles. 

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