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Blockchain can change retail

The retail industry has undergone a transformation with technology and online shopping retailers are spying ways to hang on to traditional shoppers while diversifying both their channels and their wares, says JAQUELINE VAN EEDEN, Business Development Manager: Retail and Consumer Industry at Wipro Limited, Africa

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Cryptocurrency and the blockchain

The wave of cryptocurrency has lapped over the world, garnering the interest of even the most guarded and technology-reluctant folk. Retailers have cottoned on to this trend, with leading South African retailer, Pick n Pay, trialling Bitcoin payments mid last year. Despite the fact that they have not proceeded beyond trial, Pick n Pay spokesperson cited cryptocurrency as a “game changer” for the retail space, and one which will inevitably be accepted as tender as it matures.

Meier, says however, that it is the technology behind cryptocurrency, called blockchain, which is making a more tangible impact on retail.

“Retailers are exploring blockchain technology to drive core processes such as buying and reselling of stock and regulating logistics. Use cases are gaining traction virtually on a daily basis. Beyond cryptocurrency, the blockchain can also facilitate other payment methodologies, such as voucher or barcode payments, which will eventually encroach on traditional payment methods,” says Meier.

The custom customer

Customer demands are changing, partly because of new shopping habits brought about by technological advancements such as shopping apps, and partly because of the advent of an entirely new generation of shoppers who’ve been born to a world of instantaneous delivery. A natural follow on from this is customisation.

Consumers today are uniquely positioned to demand what they want – and get it too. Meier points out that retailers are leveraging big data and analytics to tailor their services and products to the market. In some cases, going as far as to customise for individual consumer requirements. Customers are reaping the benefits of on-demand products and delivery, from whichever platform they feel most comfortable using.

“Customisation is gaining popularity in the likes of fashion and the automotive industry. The line between retailer and manufacturer is blurring – both have begun selling direct to the customer and retailers have invested in their own private label products. Retailers are moving into the manufacturing space, making use of technologies such as the blockchain, 3D printing, augmented reality and online app-based customer design platforms, where customers can simultaneously create and buy their own unique version of a product.”

It’s all about choice

Consumer demands and retailer’s access to technology are creating an effective meeting or engagement point between customer and retailer, where more choice is available either through the method of purchase, such as apps, or method of delivery, as with subscription-based buying.

“Products are increasingly being offered as a service, a prime example being upcoming car subscription services such as Volvo’s Care,” says Meier. “Retailers in other industries are also exploring this type of offering or looking at ways to integrate service offerings into their delivery, either themselves or through strategic partnerships with emerging players.”

For retailers, leveraging start-ups that can add value to their own customer service, becomes cost  effective way of boosting their offering without building or retaining in house services of their own. Meier offers examples of replacing an in-house logistics fleet through partnering with a start-up transport service, or using the likes of PayPal or Zapper instead of traditional Point-of-Sale (PoS) systems to supplement cash and card payment options.

Electronic tokens, SMS and WhatsApp have become normalised interaction channels, particularly for retailers that target the youth. Retailers are using the likes of WhatsApp for more than just communicating with customers; it’s being used to transact, confirm payments and orders, and to inform customers of important information, such as delivery status.

Challenge of change

Meier poses that the challenge with these platforms – as with shared delivery platforms – however, is that they are difficult to monitor and manage.

“While there is value and costs savings to be had by chasing these technologies and partnering with emerging players, in that retailers are able to focus on their core business, measuring the success and true value of these ventures still poses a concern,” explains Meier. “Retailers still rely on records such as delivery notes, purchase orders, etc. For these platforms to be successfully integrated into operational functionality and become auditable, they need to tie in with the retailer’s financial system – which many don’t as yet.”

Keeping it all secure

Where financial information is disclosed, there is always a risk of security breach. Retailers are investing heavily in security measures such as encryption to minimise this risk, boost consumer trust and mitigate potential damage to their reputations. The use of multiple interaction channels such as WhatsApp can be a concern, as the security of these platforms resides with the platform and not the retailer.

“Most shoppers are familiar with the scams out there, such as phishing sites and poor security when buying from sellers via online platforms. Introducing rating systems helps to boost buyer trust and makes buying and selling on these platforms safer, by virtue of using only well-rated sellers. Consumers need to actively use the trust facilities available to them,” says Meier.

Goods-in-transit security is another concern. The introduction of smart dashboards in vehicles, and IoT devices to monitor loads, is opening the door for their use as a security and communication tool, enabling monitoring of goods-in-transit while offering other benefits, like proactive vehicle maintenance.

Change is happening

It’s not the retail industry as a whole that is necessarily driving the demand for technology though. Individual retailers are exploring things such as disruptive payment systems, ways of outsourcing their logistics requirements, or methods to engage with customers through third parties who offer multiple brands across all sectors on a single, interactive platform.

“There is a technological convergence happening in the market place, where consumers can access whatever they are looking for across different traditional industries, in one place, and have it delivered in a manner of their choosing. Maintaining pace with this expectation, and innovating to meet it easier, quicker and with better returns, is driving technological adoption, even as technology drives the change,” concludes Meier.

Cars

Motor Racing meets Machine Learning

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The car of tomorrow, most of us imagine, is being built by the great automobile manufacturers of the world. More and more, however, we are seeing information technology companies joining the race to power the autonomous vehicle future.

Last year, chip-maker Intel paid $15.3-billion to acquire Israeli company Mobileye, a leader in computer vision for autonomous driving technology. Google’s autonomous taxi division, Waymo, has been valued at $45-billion.

Now there’s a new name to add to the roster of technology giants driving the future.

DeepRacer on the inside

Amazon Web Services, the world’s biggest cloud computing service and a subsidiary of Amazon.com,  last month unveiled a scale model autonomous racing car for developers to build new artificial intelligence applications. Almost in the same breath, at its annual re:Invent conference in Las Vegas, it showcased the work being done with machine learning in Formula 1 racing.

AWS DeepRacer is a 1/18th scale fully autonomous race car, designed to incorporate the features and behaviour of a full-sized vehicle. It boasts all-wheel drive, monster truck tires, an HD video camera, and on-board computing power. In short, everything a kid would want of a self-driving toy car.

But then, it also adds everything a developer would need to make the car autonomous in ways that, for now, can only be imagined. It uses a new form of machine learning (ML), the technology that allows computer systems to improve their functions progressively as they receive feedback from their activities. ML is at the heart of artificial intelligence (AI), and will be core to autonomous, self-driving vehicles.

AWS has taken ML a step further, with an approach called reinforcement learning. This allows for quicker development of ML models and applications, and DeepRacer is designed to allow developers to experiment with and hone their skill in this area. It is built on top of another AWS platform, called Amazon SageMaker, which enables developers and data scientists to build, train, and deploy machine learning quickly and easily.

Along with DeepRacer, AWS also announced the DeepRacer League, the world’s first global autonomous racing league, open to anyone who orders the scale model from AWS.

DeepRacer on the outside

As if to prove that DeepRacer is not just a quirky entry into the world of motor racing, AWS also showcased the work it is doing with the Formula One Group. Ross Brawn, Formula 1’s managing director of Motor Sports, joined AWS CEO Andy Jassy during the keynote address at the re:Invent conference, to demonstrate how motor racing meets machine learning.

“More than a million data points a second are transmitted between car and team during a Formula 1 race,” he said. “From this data, we can make predictions about what we expect to happen in a wheel-to-wheel situation, overtaking advantage, and pit stop advantage. ML can help us apply a proper analysis of a situation, and also bring it to fans.

“Formula 1 is a complete team contest. If you look at a video of tyre-changing in a pit stop – it takes 1.6 seconds to change four wheels and tyres – blink and you will miss it. Imagine the training that goes into it? It’s also a contest of innovative minds.”

AWS CEO Andy Jassy unveils DeepRacer

Formula 1 racing has more than 500 million global fans and generated $1.8 billion in revenue in 2017. As a result, there are massive demands on performance, analysis and information. 

During a race, up to 120 sensors on each car generate up to 3GB of data and 1 500 data points – every second. It is impossible to analyse this data on the fly without an ML platform like Amazon SageMaker. It has a further advantage: the data scientists are able to incorporate 65 years of historical race data to compare performance, make predictions, and provide insights into the teams’ and drivers’ split-second decisions and strategies.

This means Formula 1 can pinpoint how a driver is performing and whether or not drivers have pushed themselves over the limit.

“By leveraging Amazon SageMaker and AWS’s machine-learning services, we are able to deliver these powerful insights and predictions to fans in real time,” said Pete Samara, director of innovation and digital technology at Formula 1.

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee and on YouTube

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LG rethinks portable speakers

LG adds three sizes to its XBoom Go portable speaker line in a portable revision, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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Portable Bluetooth speakers are fairly commonplace at a pool party because they’re battery-powered. The only issue is that louder speakers usually distort the music or break the bank. The LG XBoom aims to change this.

LG has partnered with Meridian Audio to produce great sounding speakers that can go loud without distorting the audio. Meridian Audio is an expert in high-performance, high-fidelity audio experiences. The company is best known for producing the industry’s first audiophile-quality compact disc player and provide audio equipment to McLaren and Jaguar Land Rover.

The Bluetooth software in the XBoom Go is Qualcomm aptX HD compatible, meaning that 24bit vinyl-quality audio can be played through this speaker over Bluetooth instead of standard-fidelity audio.

The major phone assistants feature on these speakers, with tethered Google Assistant or Apple Siri functionality from one’s smartphone. This makes it very convenient to use the voice assistant button to skip tracks and change music when one’s hands are wet.

Three models of the XBoom Go series – the PK3, PK5 and PK7 – offer different audio functions depending on the audio needs of the user. Best fits for these speakers are:

  • PK3 – The Pool Friendly Speaker: The PK3 is IPX7 water resistant, up to 1 metre for 30 minutes, making this speaker accident proof at pool parties. Boasting up to 12 hours of playback from its built-in battery, this speaker will last as long as the party.

  • PK5 – The Party Friendly Speaker: Even if the lunch braai turns into a midnight feast, this speaker will play throughout as its battery lasts up to 18 hours. Clear Vocal technology is added to the PK5, which reduces audio imperfections from the music for a sharper sound. It is also water and splash resistant and has a handle, allowing for it to be easily carried. Built-in LED lights which pulse with the beat of the music on this speaker provide a light show for any song.

  • PK7 –  The Audiophile’s Speaker: With a battery life that lasts for up to 22 hours, the PK7 also contains an LED light to the rhythm of the sound. The speaker integrates a convenient handle grip that allows for it to be transported securely. The powerful PK7 Bluetooth speaker also distributes its high frequencies across two separate tweeters for more precise sonic detail.

Overall, LG’s XBoom PK portable speakers are a phenomenal set of high-quality wireless speakers.

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