Life as we know it requires water to survive. While simple in composition, the H2O molecule in bulk liquid form enables the complex chemistry required for organisms from bacteria to humans to function. However, as the pace of change of our technological development accelerates and shifting weather patterns and a growing population place increasing pressure on our fresh water resources, a deeper appreciation and better management of this most vital resource to our existence needs to become a priority.
Water is more abundant in the solar system than we thought
Life is arguably one of the most mysterious phenomena we have ever come across. Philosophically, it could be argued that a full understanding of the topic may be impossible from the vantage point of being living organisms ourselves. Nonetheless, this has not prevented us from trying to figure it out. Among the most interesting discoveries that we have made is that all living things on Earth contain DNA, and that significant portions of the genetic code are shared in organisms from amoeba to elephants. This is a beautiful discovery in terms of unity- we are all part of one living system on this planet. On the flipside, this implies that terrestrial life provides us with just a single data point in terms of our understanding of life itself. In light of the observation that all terrestrial life requires water, a reasonable place to begin in our search for a second data point representing a living system, is in places in our solar system where liquid water is present.
Much of Earth’s water is older than the Sun. This remarkable observation is based on the Sun not having radiated enough during its lifetime to have produced the observed isotope ratios of existing H2O. Furthermore, liquid water in our solar system appears to be far less rare than previously imagined. For example, Jupiter’s moon Europa is thought to have an ocean beneath its icy crust, kept warm by the tidal friction of expansion and contraction induced by its elliptic orbit in the gravitational field of the massive planet. Recently, the detection of an underground lake on Mars was announced, its liquid state thought to be maintained even at temperatures significantly below zero due to dissolved salts as well as the pressure of the ice sheet above it, similar to lakes detected under Antarctica.
At the recent OzWater 2018 conference held in Brisbane, Australia, the opening speakers addressed the role of big data, both in increased precision of astronomical observations including detections of water in our solar system, as well as in managing our diminishing fresh water supplies on Earth. The Mars One Project and other endeavours to design and implement human settlement of Mars are driving a fundamental rethink of how we use and think about natural resources, in particular water. Capabilities in efficient solar-powered desalination, which we should be moving towards faster on Earth, are crucial prerequisites for the design of systems on Mars to extract ice crystals from the sand, liquefy and purify for safe usage, all powered by thin-film photovoltaics.
The extraction of resources like metals and water from asteroids may seem futuristic in terms of our requirements on this planet, but in fact, for example, we are predicted to run out the rare metal indium required for touch screen functionality in the next decade. For crewed space travel on the other hand, the capability to rendezvous with asteroids to collect water and other resources is essential as we explore beyond Mars. A crew of four people requires three tons of drinking water for the seven-month journey to Mars- a figure which quickly becomes a limiting factor for longer journeys.
Back on Earth, water scarcity is an increasing problem
Around the world, water scarcity is gaining ground as one of the defining challenges of the 21st century. The recent global headlines around Cape Town’s impending Day Zero- the day the taps run dry- sent shockwaves around the world. A major city running out of drinkable water may have been unthinkable only a few decades ago, but according to the World Wildlife Fund, two-thirds of the world’s population may face water shortages by 2025. Already, some 1.1 billion people around the world lack access to water, with a total of 2.7 billion finding water scarce for at least one month of the year.
At the recently-held WISA 2017 conference in Cape Town, deputy Cape Town mayor Ian Nielsen admitted that water scarcity may become Cape Town’s defining feature, and that “we need to accept the days of plentiful water supply in Cape Town may well be over.”
Dams and (Big Data) lakes
Space exploration continues to push the envelope in terms of our technological capability. We first landed remotely controlled equipment on Mars in the 1970’s. The Mars Rover is the 7th successful landing on Mars, and has traversed the surface of the Red Planet since 2012, gathering and sharing volumes of data that are instrumental in our understanding of the planet and its capability to support life, both in the past, present and future. Recent data generated by the Rover revealed that the watery lake that once filled Gale Crater, around 3.5 billion years ago, contained complex organic molecules that may constitute a food source or the remnants of life there. In 2014, the Rover detected methane- the simplest organic molecule, periodically being released in Mars’ atmosphere.
In isolation, neither of these discoveries provide proof of life on Mars. However, while the data itself is inconclusive, increased sophistication of hardware sent to explore Mars, use of capabilities like machine learning for increased automation of this hardware, and by applying powerful data analytics tools, researchers can start piecing together parts of the problem. As more pieces of the puzzle are revealed, the possibility of uncovering ground-breaking findings increases exponentially.
The accelerating use of IoT sensors and accompanying computing platforms that mine sensor data to reveal insights and trends is equipping policymakers and governments with unprecedented insight into how to best manage available resources based on real-time, accurate information.
Cape Town City has begun to take steps to securing its 3 million-odd residents’ water supply. These include plans for desalination plants, groundwater abstraction projects, improved municipal water management, and other supply diversification programmes. And much of this is built on or enabled by technology.
Data has been used to develop a range of interventions that have seen water consumption reduced by 30% over the past 15 years in the Cape Town, despite its population growing by 30% during the same period. The City’s use of technology to automate asset management and field service processes has enabled mobile field workers to access, complete and manage their assigned work orders and service requests via their mobile devices. To date, the meter reading teams have captured over 3.7 million meter readings using its mobile application at an average speed of 45-70 seconds per meter. This has enabled the City to better manage its water resources and install, inspect, maintain and repair water and sanitation assets while giving managers access to near real-time information that is analysed to improve future decision making.
In spite of all the data, a lot remains to be done in the City from a management perspective. Damage to agriculture in the region due to the water crisis has already been estimated at several fold the cost of a desalinator with capacity for the entire City’s consumption. This is coupled with last week’s report of underspending by the City’s water department of a whopping R1.6 billion on its capital budget in the midst of the ongoing crisis.
As climate change and growing populations place increasing pressure on our limited natural resources, all countries and cities will need to drastically rethink their approach to the preservation, management and use of scarce natural resources. I always come back to the thought that intelligent aliens would laugh at a water scarcity crisis on a planet 71 percent covered by oceans. Instead of accepting that the days of plentiful water supply may well be over, we need to accelerate our use of technology and data towards better management of our precious resources on this planet, most vitally, water.
New iPhone pricing for SA
The iStore has announced that the latest iPhones, the Xs and Xs Max, can now be pre-ordered at www.myistore.co.za , and will be available in stores starting 28 September 2018.
|iPhone Xs and iPhone Xs Max feature 5.8-inch and 6.5-inch Super Retina displays that offer remarkable brightness and true blacks while showing 60 percent greater dynamic range in HDR photos. iPhone Xs and iPhone Xs Max have an improved dual camera system that offers breakthrough photo and video features, A12 Bionic chip with next-generation Neural Engine, faster Face ID, wider stereo sound, longer battery life, splash and water resistance,
Pre-orders will be open for cash purchases and on iStore’s revised payment plan in partnership with FNB Credit Card, allowing customers to pay off their iPhone at a reduced interest rate. However, the contract period is 37 months rather than the usual 24 months.
Accenture opens Fjord design centre in Johannesburg
Accenture has launched its first design and innovation studio on African soil, Fjord Johannesburg.
The company says the move significantly expands its design capabilities and demonstrates its commitment to unlocking Africa’s innovation potential through the creation of experiences that redefine industries in our constantly evolving digital era.
The new studio, opening in November, will be located at Accenture’s new 3875m² offices in Waterfall. It will be led by Marcel Rossouw, design director and studio lead for Fjord Johannesburg.
Said Rossouw, “Brands are constantly asking, ’how does one take a business need or problem, build that out into a definition of a service experience, and then bring it to market?’ It’s about re-engineering existing service experiences, identifying customer needs, prototyping rapidly, iterating often and proving or disproving assumptions. But it’s also about getting feedback from customers. The combination of these factors helps companies advance towards the ultimate service experience.”
Fjord is the design and innovation consultancy of Accenture Interactive. The Johannesburg location marks its 28th design studio globally, solidifying its position as the world’s leading design powerhouse.
Working in the same location as Accenture Interactive will allow Fjord to fuse its core design strategy DNA with the digital agency’s expertise in marketing, content and commerce to create and deliver the best customer experiences for the world’s leading brands.
Accenture Interactive Africa‘s blend of intelligent design and creative use of technology has already been used by some of South Africa’s largest and most prominent brands, including Alexander Forbes, Discovery, MultiChoice and Nedbank. The digital agency has also earned industry accolades for its innovative and compelling business results, most notably two gold awards in the Service Design category at the 2017 and 2018 Loeries awards.
“Great design tells great stories,” says Wayne Hull, managing director of Accenture Digital and Accenture Interactive lead in Africa. “It unifies a brand, drives innovation and makes the brand or service distinctive and hyper-relevant in both the digital and physical worlds. This is critical to achieving results. Having Fjord Johannesburg as part of Accenture Interactive, and collaborating with all of Accenture Africa, will provide unique experiences and forward-thinking capabilities for our clients.”
“Businesses in South Africa are becoming more design-aware and are looking to take greater advantage of design skills to compete with the rest of the world,” said Thomas Müller, head of Europe, Africa and Latin America at Fjord. “We’re excited to open our first design studio on the continent and to be part of an emerging market that is ripe for design and innovation, and open for business. Developing markets like South Africa are challenging assumptions and norms about what digital services and products are meant to be, and we’ll strive to put design at the heart of the innovation being produced there.”