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Gadgets going wild

From sharks that send a Tweet to bathers warning them of their presence to cutting-edge data collection on animal populations and habitats, technology is fast becoming the biggest weapon in the conservation efforts to protect some of the most endangered species on the planet, writes MICHAEL VLISMAS.

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It’s a move that delights Arthur Goldstuck, South Africa’s leading expert on technology trends, who in June will join a unique conservation effort with Vodacom, San Parks and the Endangered Wildlife Trust in the Kruger National Park, and which could result in groundbreaking research on the wild dog.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the African wild dog – or painted dog as it is also known – is Southern Africa’s most endangered large carnivore species with only 6 600 individual dogs still left in the wild.

Vodacom Bulls coach John Mitchell and several players will join a group of Vodacom Red customers who have won the right to be part of an exclusive experience in helping track and collar African wild dogs in the Kruger National Park from 20-22 June, with Goldstuck and wild life enthusiast Nadav Ossendryver – founder of the Latest Sightings YouTube channel and app – from  being a part of this pack of conservationists.

“What’s going to be fascinating is getting a complete digital picture of the movements, life cycles and activities of wild dogs,” says Goldstuck.

“The result of that digital picture is that we will almost have an x-ray of the brain of the wild dog community, which has never been possible before. I can imagine the nature of this data will provide incredible insights into the efforts to conserve and protect the wild dogs.”

As an award-winning IT journalist and author and the editor-in-chief of Gadget magazine, Goldstuck says technology is playing an increasingly important role in nature conservation.

“The technology available for nature conservation is far ahead of the attempts to destabilise nature. Drones are being used to fight poachers in the Kruger National Park. Remote camera traps are being used not just to monitor species but also rediscover species. I have even read of a GPS device that Tweets a shark’s location to nearby bathers. And crowdsourcing is also entering the conservation sphere in the form of a crowdsourced bio blitz where everyone visiting a particular reserve or park is involved in gathering information on every single species they spotted in that environment. It’s incredible the range of technology available to nature conservation. So there is no longer an excuse to not use the latest technology in nature conservation.”

But Goldstuck says some of the challenges to more effective use of technology in conservation are a willingness and ability of those at the forefront of conservation efforts to use this technology, and the need for a more integrated approach throughout South African conservation.

“The problem is the readiness to use the technology as a solution and the ability of people involved in conservation to use this technology. But the fact that you can now do courses at South African universities in the use of technology in conservation is a positive step towards overcoming this.

“I’m seeing a very strong coming together of technology with conservation, especially with rhino projects. But I think the challenge is to make these isolated incidents more integrated across all areas of conservation.

“In the next five years I believe we’re likely to see big leaps forward with organisations like Vodacom possibly joining forces with other companies to develop a more integrated strategy across South African conservation.”

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AI, IoT, and language of bees can save the world

A groundbreaking project is combining artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things to learn the language of bees, and save the planet, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

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It is early afternoon and hundreds of bees are returning to a hive somewhere near Reading in England. They are no different to millions of bees anywhere else in the world, bringing the nectar of flowers back to their queen.

But the hive to which they bring their tribute is no ordinary apiary.

Look closer, and one spots a network of wires leading into the structure. They connect up to a cluster of sensors, and run into a box beneath the hive carrying the logo of a company called Arnia: a name synonymous with hive monitoring systems for the past decade. The Arnia sensors monitor colony acoustics, brood temperature, humidity, hive weight, bee counts and weather conditions around the apiary.

On the back of the hive, a second box is emblazoned with the logo of BuzzBox. It is a solar-powered, Wi-Fi device that transmits audio, temperature, and humidity signals, includes a theft alarm, and acts as a mini weather station.

In combination, the cluster of instruments provides an instant picture of the health of the bee hive. But that is only the beginning.

What we are looking at is a beehive connected to the Internet of Things: connected devices and sensors that collect data from the environment and send it into the cloud, where it can be analysed and used to monitor that environment or help improve biodiversity, which in turn improves crop and food production.

The hives are integrated into the World Bee Project, a global honey bee monitoring initiative. Its mission is to “inform and implement actions to improve pollinator habitats, create more sustainable ecosystems, and improve food security, nutrition and livelihoods by establishing a globally-coordinated monitoring programme for honeybees and eventually for key pollinator groups”.

The World Bee Project is working with database software leader Oracle to transmit massive volume of data collected from its hives into the Oracle Cloud. Here it is combined with numerous other data sources, from weather patterns to pollen counts across the ecosystem in which the bees collect the nectar they turn into honey. Then, artificial intelligence software – with the assistance of human analysts – is used to interpret the behaviour of the hive, and patterns of flight, and from there assess the ecosystem.

Click here to read more about how the Internet of Things is used to interpret the language of bees.

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Download speeds ramp up in SA

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All four South African mobile network operators have improved their average download speed experience by at least 1 Mbps in the past six months.

This is one of the main findings in the latest South Africa Mobile Network Experience report by Opensignal, the mobile analytics company. It has analysed the mobile experience in the country, updating a study last conducted in February 2019. While a quick look at its South Africa awards table suggests not much has changed since the last report, it’s far from stagnating. 

Opensignal reports the following improvements across its measurements:

  • MTN remains the leader in our 4G Availability measurements, with a score of 83.6%. But the other three operators are all now within 2 percentage points of the 80% milestone — with Telkom’s users seeing the biggest increase of over 8 points.
  • All four operators improved their Download Speed Experience scores by at least 1 Mbps. But growth in our Upload Speed Experience scores has stagnated, with only winner Vodacom seeing an incremental increase.
  • MTN and Vodacom remain tied for our Video Experience award, and both have increased their scores in the past six months, putting them on the cusp of Very Good (65-75) ratings. Cell C also increased its score to tip over into a Good ranking (55-65).
  • MTN scored over 90% in 4G Availability in two of South Africa’s biggest cities and was just shy of this milestone in the others. Meanwhile, MTN and Vodacom have now passed the 20 Mbps mark in Download Speed Experience in three cities each.

A quick look at the awards table would suggest not much has changed in South Africa since the last report in February. MTN won the 4G Availability award again, Vodacom kept hold of the medals for Upload Speed and Latency Experience, while the two operators tied for Download Speed and Video Experience just as they did six months ago.

But far from stagnating, we’re seeing improvements across most of the measurements. All four of South Africa’s national operators — Cell C, MTN, Telkom and Vodacom — are now closing in on 80% 4G Availability nationally, while at the urban level, MTN has passed the 90% mark in two cities. And in Download Speed Experience, our users on all four operators’ networks saw their scores increase at least 8%.

In this report, Open Signal has analyzed the scores for all four national operators across all their metrics over the 90 days from the start of May 2019, including South Africa’s five biggest cities — Cape Town, Durban, Ekurhuleni, Johannesburg, and Tshwane.

MTN has been top of Open Signal’s South African 4G Availability leaderboard for a couple of years now, and the operator remains dominant with a winning score over 4 percentage points ahead of its rivals. But it was users on Telkom’s network who saw the most impressive boost in 4G Availability, as its score jumped by well over 8 percentage points.

This leap has put Telkom into a three-way draw for second place with Cell C and Vodacom, who both saw their scores increase by at least 3 percentage points.

While MTN is the only operator to have passed 80% in national 4G Availability, the other three players are all less than 2 percentage points away from this milestone. Based on the current rate of improvement, Open Signal fully expects to see all four operators pass the 80% mark in its next report — which will provide testament to the rapid maturing of the South African mobile market.

MTN and Vodacom remain neck-and-neck in the Video Experience analysis, with both operators scoring 65 (out of 100). And the two rivals both saw their scores rise by around 3 points since our last report, meaning the two continue to share our Video Experience award. Cell C and Telkom remain in third and fourth place, but both saw larger increases — of 5 and 4 points respectively — to narrow the gap on the leaders.

The increase in MTN and Vodacom’s Video Experience scores means the two operators are on the cusp of Very Good (65-75) ratings in this metric — with the users on their networks enjoying fast loading video times and almost non-existent stalling, even at higher resolutions. By comparison, Cell C’s score earned it a Good rating (55-65), while Telkom remains in Fair (40-55) territory — meaning users watching video on Telkom’s network, in particular, will likely struggle with longer load times and frequent stuttering, even at lower resolutions.

In terms of 4G-only Video Experience, Cell C’s score has increased enough to tip it over into a Very Good rating — now featuring three operators achieving 4G network scores with a Very Good ranking. And as 4G Availability continues to increase, the overall Video Experience scores will continue to climb, making mobile video viewing more of a viable proposition across all networks. And in a country where fixed-line broadband connections are relatively rare and the large majority of South Africans only connect to the internet via cellular, this improvement has the potential to transform people’s lives.

Read more from Open Signal’s report here.

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