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Data science interns tackle Cape Town water crisis

Cape Town’s Day Zero for running out of water may have been postponed for 2018, but for interns at the Explore Data Science Academy (EDSA) in the city, their project was an opportunity to take existing data and derive fresh insights into the City’s water crisis.  

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The question posed to the students was: “What are the supply and demand factors affecting the Cape Town water crisis?

Using publicly available data, they showed that the blame cannot be attributed to any single cause, but that multiple factors in varying degrees each contributed to the water crunch.

The students concluded that a combination of low rainfall, population growth, shifting consumption levels as well as evaporation, were all factors affecting the City’s critical dam levels.

The project was the first to be set by the Academy, and was handed to the first intake of 100 students on their first day at the Academy in January this year. They were given two months to work on the problem, with the EDSA supporting them with the necessary skills to tackle the problem.

“In essence, data science is about taking real world problems and finding real world solutions,” said Aidan Helmbold, co-founder of the EDSA.

“The water project required our interns to make use of various available data sets and technology to analyse the City’s water consumption, and to make these insights available so that the City could better understand the underlying dynamics,” Helmbold added.

Students had to analyse the main supply and demand factors affecting the water crisis.  Demand side factors were drawn from water consumption data available on the City of Cape Town’s Open Data portal.

On the supply side, factors such as dam levels, and the impact of weather data, such as rainfall, temperature and windfall patterns on water evaporation, were considered.

Analysis of water demand also took into consideration population figures from the 2011 census, the impact of water leaks as well as usage from sources other than households, such as industries and farms.

“I think the most astounding aspect for us as education providers was to see how much 100 young minds can achieve with only three months of data science training behind them,” Helmbold said.

“We were also amazed at how quickly the students were able to adapt to the softer skills, such as teamwork and the realities of managing multiple project deliverables.”

“Many of these young people come from very humble circumstances and have only a matric to their name. Yet they have demonstrated through the project, their ability to get to grips with complex problems and to come up with life-ready solutions to them. ”

The EDSA will present the data finds to City of Cape Town officials early in June.

“Ideally, the EDSA would like to partner with the city to contribute to deepening the understanding of the role of data and the value its insights can bring to the decision making process,” Helmbold said.

CoCT and CiTi’s #newnormal – Cape Town Water Saving Design Sprint

In a separate but related endeavour, the Cape Innovation and Technology Initiative (CiTI) together with the City of Cape Town, recently held a weekend-long hackathon to come up with solutions that would engage and encourage Capetonians to continue to save water and remain conscious of their water habits.

In order to address this challenge, a two-day design sprint was held at the Woodstock Bandwidth Barn. Participants were given the challenge to ‘Design a digital campaign, tool, game or app which will help make water-saving the new normal’.

Drawing on the City’s Open Data portal, this event challenged teams to come up with ideas on how to use technology to motivate long-term behavioural change regarding water saving and to propose solutions that were relevant to the wider community.  Participants were also briefed by Green Cape and behavioural design professionals.

The aim of the user-centred design hackathon was to bring together people from diverse backgrounds, experiences and skill sets.  About 60 members of the public including 30 of the EDSA’s interns were involved in the design sprint.

The weekend-long event was facilitated by experienced design thinking professionals who took teams through a structured process.

“This allowed people to participate in the event without already having a solution in mind, focusing rather on getting teams to understand the problem from a user perspective first,” said Michelle Matthews, Head of Innovation at CiTi.

This user-centred approach included having participants’ interview members of the public, to help participants propose solutions, which citizens might actually need and adopt.

One of the EDSA teams came up with an idea for a Sims-like game that tracked an individual’s water consumption rates, rewarding them with points for saving water and connecting them with others with similar household set-ups to benchmark usage and share tips.  This team eventually came third in the event.

“We were delighted by the calibre of solutions that the teams demonstrated, which had the potential to be applied to one of the biggest issues facing the city,” Matthews said.

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Low-cost wireless sport earphones get a kickstart

Wireless earphone brands are common, but not crowdfunded brands. BRYAN TURNER takes the K Sport Wireless for a run.

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As wireless technology becomes better, Bluetooth earphones have become popular in the consumer market. KuaiFit aspires to make them even more accessible to more people through a cheaper, quality product, by selling the K Sport Wireless Earphones directly from its Kickstarter page

KuaiFit has an app by the same name which offers voice-guided personal training services in almost every type of exercise, from cardio to weight-lifting. A vast range of connectivity to third-party sensors is available, like heart rate sensors and GPS devices, which work well with guided coaching. 

The app starts off with selecting a fitness level: beginner, intermediate and advanced. Thereafter, one has the ability to connect with real personal trainers via a subscription to its paid service. The subscription comes free for 6 months with the earphones, and R30 per month thereafter. 

The box includes a manual, a USB to two USB Type B connectors, different sized soft plastic eartips and the two earphone units. Each earphone is wireless and connects to the other independently of wires. This puts the K Sport Wireless in the realm of the Apple Earpods in terms of connection style. 

The earphones are just over 2cm wide and 2cm high. The set is black with a light blue KuaiFit logo on the earphone’s button. 

The button functions as an on/off switch when long-pressed and a play/pause button when quick-pressed. The dual-button set-up is convenient in everyday use, allowing for playback control depending on which hand is free. Two connectivity modes are available, single earphone mode or dual earphone mode. The dual earphone mode intelligently connects the second earphone and syncs stereo audio a few seconds after powering on. 

In terms of connectivity, the earphones are Bluetooth 4.1 with a massive 10-meter range, provided there are no obstacles between the device and the earphones. While it’s not Bluetooth 5, it still falls into the Bluetooth Low Energy connection category, meaning that the smartphone’s battery won’t be drastically affected by a consistent connection to the earphones. The batteries within the earphones aren’t specifically listed but last anywhere between 3 and 6 hours, depending on the mode. 

Audio quality is surprisingly good for earphones at this price point. The headset style is restricted to in-ear due to its small design and probable usage in movement-intensive activities. As a result, one has to be very careful how one puts these earphones, in because bass has the potential of getting reduced from an incorrect in-ear placement. In-ear earphones are usually notorious for ear discomfort and suction pain after extended usage. These earphones are one of the very few in this price range that are comfortable and don’t cause discomfort. The good quality of the soft plastic ear tip is definitely a factor in the high level of comfort of the in-ear earphone experience.

Overall, the K Sport Wireless earphones are great considering the sound quality and the low price: US$30 on Kickstarter.

Find them on Kickstarter here.

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Taxify enters Google Maps

A recent update to Taxify now uses Google Maps which allows users to identify their drivers, find public transport and search for billing options.

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People planning their travel routes using Google Maps will now see a Taxify icon in the app, in addition to the familiar car, public transport, walking and billing options.

Taxify started operating in South Africa in 2016 and as of October 2018 operates in seven South African cities – Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni, Tshwane, Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth and Polokwane.

Once riders have searched for their destination and asked the app for directions, Google Maps shares the proximity of cars on the Taxify platform, as well as an estimated fare for the trip.

If users see that taking the Taxify option is their best bet, they can simply tap on the ‘Open app’ icon, to complete the process of booking the ride. Customers without the app on their device will be prompted to install Taxify first.

This integration makes it possible for users to evaluate which of the private, public or e-hailing modes of transport are most time-efficient and cost-effective.

“This integration with Google Maps makes it so much easier for users to choose the best way to move around their city,” says Gareth Taylor, Taxify’s country manager for South Africa. “They’ll have quick comparisons between estimated arrival times for the different modes of transport, as well as fares they can expect to pay, which will help save both time and money,” he added.

Taxify rides in Google Maps are rolling out globally today and will be available in more than 15 countries, with South Africa being one of the first countries to benefit from this convenient service.

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