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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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CES: So long, and thanks for all the beer!

Last week, the Las Vegas expo showed off its fun side with state-of-the-art technologies for enjoying beer, writes BRYAN TURNER

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From craft beer-making machines to robots that pour beer, CES had more beer than usual in Las Vegas last week. And even free beer if you found the right stand. Stampede’s saloon-style booth offered beer to visitors who tried out its latest drones, virtual reality, and other gaming products. No beer tech, though.

Here are some of the beer technologies that stood out:

LG HomeBrew – Craft beer made at home

LG’s HomeBrew craft beer-making machine,  debuted at CES 2019, brings the brewing process home thanks to single-use capsules,  a self-cleaning feature, and an algorithm optimised for fermentation. 

Like a Nespresso coffee machine, the beer maker uses capsules, which contain malt, yeast, hop oil and flavouring. At the press of a button, LG HomeBrew automates the whole procedure from fermentation and carbonation to ageing. A companion app lets users check HomeBrew’s status at any time during the process, from their handsets.

The beer machine not only offers a simple way to make craft beer, but also enhances the quality of beer it makes. The fermentation algorithm intelligently controls the fermenting process with precise temperature and pressure control. It automatically sanitises itself, using nothing more than hot water, ensuring everything is hygienically clean for the next batch.

Designed with discerning beer lovers in mind, HomeBrew allows for in-home production of batches of more than 4 litres of beer in a variety of styles. The following five distinctive, flavoured beers are available now: 

  • Hoppy American IPA
  • Golden American Pale Ale
  • Full-bodied English Stout
  • Zesty Belgian-style Witbier
  • Dry Czech Pilsner

The only catch? It takes about two weeks to make, depending on the beer type.

“LG HomeBrew is the culmination of years of home appliance and water purification technologies that we’ve developed over the decades,” said Dan Song, president of LG Electronics Home Appliance & Air Solutions Company. “Homebrewing has grown at an explosive pace, but there are still many beer lovers who haven’t taken the jump because of the barriers to entry, like complexity, and these are the consumers we think will be attracted to LG HomeBrew.”

Click here to read about the party speaker that holds beer and robots that pour beer.

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CES: Alienware gets Legend-ary

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At CES in Las Vegas last week, Dell’s Alienware released a family of high-end, thin, light, and affordable machines for both amateur and professional gamers – and a new identity.

Alienware marked CES 2019 as a brand milestone with the debut of a new design identity, Alienware Legend. It aims to set a new bar of excellence for what gamers want most – performance and function. Alienware says it evaluated multiple concepts and chose one that was the biggest and boldest departure from its current look.

Alienware Legend, says the company, stays true to the brand’s core design tenets, taking cues from its deep roots in sci-fi culture and its early industrial designs, to distinguish the brand from the rest of the industry. The new Legend design is optimised with cutting-edge thermal cooling technology to achieve and sustain overclocking power, improved AlienFX lighting, and ultra-thin screen borders. It also unveiled a new “three-knuckle hinge” design that reduces the overall dimension while creating a stronger assembly, all combining to yield a better gaming experience.

“We’re excited to come to this year’s CES with some truly groundbreaking products, next-gen software and strategic partnerships that will bring more people to experience PC gaming and advance the industry,” said Frank Azor, vice president and general manager of Alienware. “The legend design answers the call for more and better from our gaming community, and the new G Series laptops will make PC gaming even more accessible to those looking for high-performance gaming at a cost they can appreciate.”

Click here to read about Alienware Legend in action with the Area-51m and m-series laptops

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