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AppDate: Fitbit for Windows 10

In this bumper AppDate edition, SEAN BACHER highlights Fitbit for Windows 10, the VIDI smart TV streaming app, GridWatch, Fallout Shelter for Android, Vitality points rewards program with Samsung’s S Health, FNB’s banking app named among the best in the world, Opera Mini for Windows Phone, Sniper 3D, Recast and Apple News.

Fitbit for Windows 10

The new Fitbit for Windows 10 app lets users keep track of their steps, sleep and calorie intake. The app makes clever use of the tiled interface offered by Windows 10, making it easy to operate and navigate. Among other features, one can use the updated live tiles for quick access to key information, use the quick actions to set goals, or speak commands to the app through its Cortana support. According to Fitbit, a version of the app will be available for Windows 10 mobile and Xbox One later this year.

Platform: Windows 10
Expect to pay: A free download
Stockists: Visit the Windows 10 app store.

VIDI smart TV streaming app

VIDI – South Africa’s premiere video-on-demand service has announced a streaming Smart TV app. At the time of launch, the app only works with Samsung Smart TVs, but allows VIDI subscribers to stream videos directly to their TV, without having a computer present.

Platform: Every Samsung Smart TV from 2013 onward.
Expect to pay: A free download.
Stockists: Available through the Smart Hub on a Samsung Smart TV.

GridWatch

Although not exactly a new app, the GridWatch app (developed by News24) is a must for any South African. The app allows a user to select the area where their office or home is located and save that location. They are then able to check that week’s Eskom load shedding schedule in their area according to time and stage. The app is dead simple to use and even has a dedicated torch button for when the lights go out.

Platform: iOS, Windows Phone 8 and above, Android and BlackBerry OS10 and above.
Expect to pay: A free download.
Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

Fallout Shelter for Android

Fallout Shelter, the first mobile game set in the Fallout universe from Bethesda Game Studios, is now available from the Google Play store. Fallout Shelter is a post-nuclear strategy and simulation experience that puts the player in control of a state-of-the-art underground Vault. Build the perfect Vault from a variety of rooms, oversee your own thriving community of Vault Dwellers, and protect them from the dangers of the Wasteland.

Platform: Android
Expect to pay: A free download.
Stockists: Visit the Google Play Store.

Vitality points with Samsung’s S Health

A new partnership between Discovery Health and Samsung will see Vitality points being offered to Discovery Vitality members for physical activities. These activities need to be tracked through the Samsung’s S Health 4.0 app. Users wanting to take advantage of this partnership need to have a Galaxy Gear S tethered to their phone. Overall, a rather expensive solution, but one that will not only help keep you healthy, but offer rewards. For example, should a user log between 5,000 and 7,499 steps a day he will earn 50 Vitality points, and between 7,500 and 9,999 steps a day, 100 Vitality points. Over 12,500 steps a day earns 200 Vitality points. Bear in mind that the same benefits apply to Fitbit at far lower cost.

Platform: A Samsung Galaxy S6 or S6 edge and a Galaxy Gear S to track steps.
Expect to pay: A free download.
Stockists: Visit the Samsung app store from your device.

FNB Banking app named among best in world

The FNB Banking App recently scooped international awards, placing it at the top in the category of banking apps. The app has just been ranked 4th best globally by MyPrivateBanking Research in the category of Mobile Apps for Wealth Management 2015, and 6th best globally by the UX Alliance for usability and ease of use. This follows a recent accolade after the app was voted best banking app in Internet Banking SITEisfaction Survey, which measures internet banking quality and user experience in South Africa.

Platform: iOS, Android, Windows Phone 8 and above and BlackBerry OS10 and above.
Expect to pay: A free download.
Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

Opera Mini for Windows Phone

The recently released Opera Mini browser for Windows Phone is designed not only to take advantage of the tiled format, but also increase Internet browsing speeds and at the same time save the user money through compression algorithms. The browser also offers users an offline mode where web pages are cached for browsing at a later stage. A new Speed Dial option is also now available that lets users view their regular pages with one click.

Platform: Windows Phone 8 and above.
Expect to pay: A free download.
Stockists: Visit the Windows Phone store.

Sniper 3D

Sharpen your sniping skills through a variety of special ops, assignments and daily missions with Sniper 3D. The game allows a user to choose from a variety of sniper rifles, AR rifles, shotguns and hand guns. The 3D-like graphics make peering down a scope, bullet wounds and cities look very real. The shooter is controlled through the phone’s accelerometers and swiping up and down the screen. A quick tap makes the shooter fire. The game is littered with in-app purchases, but a little patience – and spending credit wisely – means a player will get very far without having to spend a cent of real money.

Platform: iOS and Android.
Expect to pay: A free download, but with endless in-app purchases – some as much as R300
Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

Recast

Recast allows users to tune into radio station playlists from around the world and listen to them as if they were using a music streaming service. However, what makes Recast better than listening to a live radio station is that all the DJ chatter is cut out and users can skip and fast-forward through tracks. Once installed, the app will pull playlists from over 200 radio stations and display the 10 most played tracks as collected from other users.

Platform: iOS and Android.
Expect to pay: A free download.
Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

Apple News app

The latest News app from Apple offers the best news reading experience on any Apple mobile device. Available with iOS 9, News combines the visually rich layout of a magazine with the immediacy and customisation of digital media. News follows over a million topics and pulls relevant stories based on a user’s specific interests that can be easily shared or saved for later. News is powered by the new custom-designed Apple News Format, a digital publishing format that allows publishers to create interactive and attractive layouts.

Platform: iOS 9
Expect to pay: A free download with iOS 9.
Stockists: Visit the iTunes store for the iOS 9 update.

* Sean Bacher is editor of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @SeanBacher

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Now IBM’s Watson joins IoT revolution in agriculture

Global expansion of the Watson Decision Platform taps into AI, weather and IoT data to boost production

IBM has announced the global expansion of Watson Decision Platform for Agriculture, with AI technology tailored for new crops and specific regions to help feed a growing population. For the first time, IBM is providing a global agriculture solution that combines predictive technology with data from The Weather Company, an IBM Business, and IoT data to help give farmers around the world greater insights about planning, ploughing, planting, spraying and harvesting.

By 2050, the world will need to feed two billion more people without an increase in arable land [1]. IBM is combining power weather data – including historical, current and forecast data and weather prediction models from The Weather Company – with crop models to help improve yield forecast accuracy, generate value, and increase both farm production and profitability.

Roric Paulman, owner/operator of Paulman Farms in Southwest Nebraska, said: “As a farmer, the wild card is always weather. IBM overlays weather details with my own data and historical information to help me apply, verify, and make decisions. For example, our farm is in a highly restricted water basin, so the ability to better anticipate rain not only saves me money but also helps me save precious natural resources.”

New crop models include corn, wheat, soy, cotton, sorghum, barley, sugar cane and potato, with more coming soon. These models will now be available in the Africa, U.S. Canada, Mexico, and Brazil, as well as new markets across Europe and Australia.

Kristen Lauria, general manager of Watson Media and Weather Solutions at IBM, said: “These days farmers don’t just farm food, they also cultivate data – from drones flying over fields to smart irrigation systems, and IoT sensors affixed to combines, seeders, sprayers and other equipment. Most of the time, this data is left on the vine — never analysed or used to derive insights. Watson Decision Platform for Agriculture aims to change that by offering tools and solutions to help growers make more informed decisions about their crops.” 

The average farm generates an estimated 500,000 data points per day, which will grow to 4 million data points by 2036 [2]. Applying AI and analysis to aggregated field, machine and environmental data can help improve shared insights between growers and enterprises across the agriculture ecosystem. With a better view of the fields, growers can see what’s working on certain farms and share best practices with other farmers. The platform assesses data in an electronic field record to identify and communicate crop management patterns and insights. Enterprise businesses such as food companies, grain processors, or produce distributors can then work with farmers to leverage those insights. It helps track crop yield as well as the environmental, weather and plant biologic conditions that go into a good or bad yield, such as irrigation management, pest and disease risk analysis and cohort analysis for comparing similar subsets of fields.

The result isn’t just more productive farmers. Watson Decision Platform for Agriculture could help a livestock company eliminate a certain mold or fungus from feed supply grains or help identify the best crop irrigation practices for farmers to use in drought-stricken areas like California. It could help deliver the perfect French fry for a fast food chain that needs longer – not fatter – potatoes from its network of growers. Or it could help a beer distributor produce a more affordable premium beer by growing higher quality barley that meets the standard required to become malting barley.

Watson Decision Platform for Agriculture is built on IBM PAIRS Geoscope from IBM Research, which quickly processes massive, complex geospatial and time-based datasets collected by satellites, drones, aerial flights, millions of IoT sensors and weather models. It crunches large, complex data and creates insights quickly and easily so farmers and food companies can focus on growing crops for global communities.

IBM and The Weather Company help the agriculture industry find value in weather insights. IBM Research collaborates with start up Hello Tractor to integrate The Weather Company data, remote sensing data (e.g., satellite), and IoT data from tractors. IBM also works with crop nutrition leader Yara to include hyperlocal weather forecasts in its digital platform for real-time recommendations, tailored to specific fields or crops. IBM acquired The Weather Company in 2016 and has since been helping clients better understand and mitigate the cost of weather on their businesses. The global expansion of Watson Decision Platform for Agriculture is the latest innovation in IBM’s efforts to make weather a more predictable business consideration. Also just announced, Weather Signals is a new AI-based tool that merges The Weather Company data with a company’s own operations data to reveal how minor fluctuations in weather affects business.

The combination of rich weather forecast data from The Weather Company and IBM’s AI and Cloud technologies is designed to provide a unique capability, which is being leveraged by agriculture, energy and utility companies, airlines, retailers and many others to make informed business decisions.

[1] The UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, “World Population Prospects: The 2017 Revision”

[2] Business Insider Intelligence, 2016 report: https://www.businessinsider.com/internet-of-things-smart-agriculture-2016-10


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What if Amazon used AI to take on factories?

By ANTONY BOURNE, IFS Global Industry Director for Manufacturing

Amazon recently announced record profits of $3.03bn, breaking its own record for the third consecutive time. However, Amazon appears to be at a crossroads as to where it heads next. Beyond pouring additional energy into Amazon Prime, many have wondered whether the company may decide to enter an entirely new sector such as manufacturing to drive future growth, after all, it seems a logical step for the company with its finger in so many pies.

At this point, it is unclear whether Amazon would truly ‘get its hands dirty’ by manufacturing its own products on a grand scale. But what if it did? It’s worth exploring this reality. What if Amazon did decide to move into manufacturing, a sector dominated by traditional firms and one that is yet to see an explosive tech rival enter? After all, many similarly positioned tech giants have stuck to providing data analytics services or consulting to these firms rather than genuinely engaging with and analysing manufacturing techniques directly.

If Amazon did factories

If Amazon decided to take a step into manufacturing, it is likely that they could use the Echo range as a template of what AI can achieve. In recent years,Amazon gained expertise on the way to designing its Echo home speaker range that features Alexa, an artificial intelligence and IoT-based digital assistant.Amazon could replicate a similar form with the deployment of AI and Industrial IoT (IIoT) to create an autonomously-run smart manufacturing plant. Such a plant could feature IIoT sensors to enable the machinery to be run remotely and self-aware; managing external inputs and outputs such as supply deliveries and the shipping of finished goods. Just-in-time logistics would remove the need for warehousing while other machines could be placed in charge of maintenance using AI and remote access. Through this, Amazon could radically reduce the need for human labour and interaction in manufacturing as the use of AI, IIoT and data analytics will leave only the human role for monitoring and strategic evaluation. Amazon has been using autonomous robots in their logistics and distribution centres since 2017. As demonstrated with the Echo range, this technology is available now, with the full capabilities of Blockchain and 5G soon to be realised and allowing an exponentially-increased amount of data to be received, processed and communicated.

Manufacturing with knowledge

Theorising what Amazon’s manufacturing debut would look like provides a stark learning opportunity for traditional manufacturers. After all, wheneverAmazon has entered the fray in other traditional industries such as retail and logistics, the sector has never remained the same again. The key takeaway for manufacturers is that now is the time to start leveraging the sort of technologies and approaches to data management that Amazon is already doing in its current operations. When thinking about how to implement AI and new technologies in existing environments, specific end-business goals and targets must be considered, or else the end result will fail to live up to the most optimistic of expectations. As with any target and goal, the more targeted your objectives, the more competitive and transformative your results. Once specific targets and deliverables have been considered, the resources and methods of implementation must also be considered. As Amazon did with early automation of their distribution and logistics centres, manufacturers need to implement change gradually and be focused on achieving small and incremental results that will generate wider momentum and the appetite to lead more expansive changes.

In implementing newer technologies, manufacturers need to bear in mind two fundamental aspects of implementation: software and hardware solutions. Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software, which is increasingly bolstered by AI, will enable manufacturers to leverage the data from connected IoT devices, sensors, and automated systems from the factory floor and the wider business. ERP software will be the key to making strategic decisions and executing routine operational tasks more efficiently. This will allow manufacturers to keep on top of trends and deliver real-time forecasting and spot any potential problems before they impact the wider business.

As for the hardware, stock management drones and sensor-embedded hardware will be the eyes through which manufacturers view the impact emerging technologies bring to their operations. Unlike manual stock audits and counting, drones with AI capabilities can monitor stock intelligently around production so that operations are not disrupted or halted. Manufacturers will be able to see what is working, what is going wrong, and where there is potential for further improvement and change.

Knowledge for manufacturing

For many traditional manufacturers, they may see Amazon as a looming threat, and smart-factory technologies such as AI and Robotic Process Automation (RPA) as a far off utopia. However, 2019 presents a perfect opportunity for manufacturers themselves to really determine how the tech giants and emerging technologies will affect the industry. Technologies such as AI and IoT are available today; and the full benefits of these technologies will only deepen as they are implemented alongside the maturing of other emerging technologies such as 5G and Blockchain in the next 3-5 years. Manufacturers need to analyse the needs which these technologies can address and produce a proper plan on how to gradually implement these technologies to address specific targets and deliverables. AI-based software and hardware solutions will fundamentally revolutionise manufacturing, yet for 2019, manufacturers just have to be willing to make the first steps in modernisation.

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