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CES: Femtech goes big in 2020

From high-tech breast pumps, to makeup printers, female health technology has exploded at CES in Las Vegas this year, writes BRYAN TURNER



Over the past 52 years, CES has showcased the latest tech at its annual gadget extravaganza, but only in the past 10 years has the focus turned to health tech. 

Technology for female health has been especially late to the game, largely because of the male domination of consumer technology. But suddenly Femtech, as it is coming to be known, is one of the fastest-growing segments of health tech at CES. And it includes everything from beauty tech to maternal health tech to sexual health.

Here is an overview of some of the most prominent Femtech products being showcased at CES. 

Willow has made itself a leader in the femtech space with a wearable in-bra breast pump. In 2017, It provided the market with the first quiet version of this device that can be used discreetly. At CES this week, it is showcasing the Willow Generation 3, the most advanced model yet, which will be available later this year. 

The next iteration of Willow’s life-changing breast pump features new technology that helps moms produce more during a pump. In testing, those who used Generation 3 pumped 20% more milk on average than previous generations.  

Milk output is maximised through new smart suction automation and a faster transition to expression, which is akin to the way a baby naturally nurses. Willow is also more comfortable than before with a softer, slower pumping rhythm and new sensitivity setting.  An expanded range of levels puts moms in control of pumping preference.

The announcement follows the recent launch of Willow’s much-requested Milk Container – making it the only pump with the flexibility of both spill-proof Milk Bags and a reusable Container. 

Another breast pump technology company, Elvie, has offered a space for women at CES 2020 to express milk, as well as a place to store it for later. Elvie’s ‘Pumping Parlor’ stand offers a relaxing space to pump and their team of experts will refrigerate stored milk. Additionally, complimentary Milk Stork Pump & Totes will be available for moms to tote their milk home. A Milk Shuttle service will run throughout CES, collecting milk from moms and transporting it back to the Pumping Parlour for refrigeration.

“Any new mom will know that finding a safe and secure space to pump can be a nightmare, especially when they go back to work,” says Tania Boler, CEO and Founder of Elvie. “Finding a place to pump at CES is one thing, but then what? Moms are leaving the event and rushing their milk back to their unreliable hotel fridge. In order for women to come back to work where and when they choose, conferences and employers need to do better.”

Read more on the next page about a machine that makes skin cream with AI, a make-up printer that evens out skin pigment, and a sexual health device that is designed to improve pleasure.

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SA’s Internet goes down again

South Africa is about to experience a small repeat of the lower speeds and loss of Internet connectivity suffered in January, thanks to a new undersea cable break, writes BRYAN TURNER



Internet service provider Afrihost has notified customers that there are major outages across all South African Internet Service Providers (ISPs), as a result of a break in the WACS undersea cable between Portugal and England 

The cause of the cable break along the cable is unclear. it marks the second major breakage event along the West African Internet sea cables this year, and comes at the worst possible time: as South Africans grow heavily dependent on their Internet connections during the COVID-19 lockdown. 

As a result of the break, the use of international websites and services, which include VPNs (virtual private networks), may result in latency – decreased speeds and response times.  

WACS runs from Yzerfontein in the Western Cape, up the West Coast of Africa, and terminates in the United Kingdom. It makes a stop in Portugal before it reaches the UK, and the breakage is reportedly somewhere between these two countries. 

The cable is owned in portions by several companies, and the portion where the breakage has occurred belongs to Tata Communications. 

The alternate routes are:  

  • SAT3, which runs from Melkbosstrand also in the Western Cape, up the West Coast and terminates in Portugal and Spain. This cable runs nearly parallel to WACS and has less Internet capacity than WACS. 
  • ACE (Africa Coast to Europe), which also runs up the West Coast.  
  • The SEACOM cable runs from South Africa, up the East Coast of Africa, terminating in both London and Dubai.  
  • The EASSy cable also runs from South Africa, up the East Coast, terminating in Sudan, from where it connects to other cables. 

The routes most ISPs in South Africa use are WACS and SAT3, due to cost reasons. 

The impact will not be as severe as in January, though. All international traffic is being redirected via alternative cable routes. This may be a viable method for connecting users to the Internet but might not be suitable for latency-sensitive applications like International video conferencing. 

Read more about the first Internet connectivity breakage which happened on the same cable, earlier this year. 

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SA cellphones to be tracked to fight coronavirus

Several countries are tracking cellphones to understand who may have been exposed to coronavirus-infected people. South Africa is about to follow suit, writes BRYAN TURNER



From Israel to South Korea, governments and cell networks have been implementing measures to trace the cellphones of coronavirus-infected citizens, and who they’ve been around. The mechanisms countries have used have varied.  

In Iran, citizens were encouraged to download an app that claimed to diagnose COVID-19 with a series of yes or no questions. The app also tracked real-time location with a very high level of accuracy, provided by the GPS sensor. 

In Germany, all cellphones on Deutsche Telekom are being tracked through cell tower connections, providing a much coarser location, but a less invasive method of tracking. The data is being handled by the Robert Koch Institute, the German version of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

In Taiwan, those quarantined at home are tracked via an “electronic fence”, which determines if users leave their homes.  

In South Africa, preparations have started to track cellphones based on cell tower connections. The choice of this method is understandable, as many South Africans may either feel an app is too intrusive to have installed, or may not have the data to install the app. This method also allows more cellphones, including basic feature phones, to be tracked. 

This means that users can be tracked on a fairly anonymised basis, because these locations can be accurate to about 2 square kilometers. Clearly, this method of tracking is not meant to monitor individual movements, but rather gain a sense of who’s been around which general area.  

This data could be used to find lockdown violators, if one considers that a phone connecting in Hillbrow for the first 11 days of lockdown, and then connecting in Morningside for the next 5, likely indicates a person has moved for an extended period of time. 

The distance between Hillbrow and Morningside is 17km. One would pass through several zones covered by different towers.

Communications minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams said that South African network providers have agreed to provide government with location data to help fight COVID-19. 

Details on how the data will be used, and what it will used to determine, are still unclear. 

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