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hearScreen gets another honour

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A smartphone hearing test for the detection of hearing problems in underserved communities, called hearScreen, has been honoured for the second time in a few weeks.

The solution was named a finalist in the Philips Innovation Fellows Competition for startups announced last month.

It is now also among the winners of the second annual SA Innovation Awards, in partnership with Business Connexion and Business Day, announced during the MyWorld of Tomorrow expo at the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg last week The awards programme is aimed at recognising and celebrating innovative African companies and individuals.

“In the old days it was the large companies that could set up research and development houses, and could be the leaders in innovation that benefited most,” said Matthew Blewett, chief investment officer at Business Connexion. “But it’s changing now – we are seeing the democratisation of innovation. That’s because today you can innovate by having an internet connection and you can even fund yourself through various methods. That is why we launched the SA Innovation Awards – to provide a platform for African innovators, big or small, to showcase how they are bringing great local ideas to life. It’s our way of recognising and celebrating innovation.”

“All industries should be looking at technology as a mechanism of improving efficiencies, operational effectiveness as well as their competitiveness,” said Dr Sibongile Gumbi, one of this year’s SA Innovation Awards judges and group executive at the Technology Innovation Agency. “It is important to embrace technology and in the end see these innovations in the market.”

Songezo Zibi, editor of Business Day and SA Innovations Awards judge, commented: “As much as Africa’s enormous economic potential is recognised, it is only through successful innovations on varying scales that this potential is realised and sustained. I am honoured to have been part of promoting the SA Innovation Awards; it is a valuable tool that we as Business Day support, and look forward to seeing further innovative ideas for our economy.”

The winners as adjudicated by a panel of judges and audited by Mazars (in alphabetical order) are:

Collaborative Innovation: Barclays Africa Group

Created by Barclays and launched in 2014, ‘Rise’ is a global community for open innovation designed to pioneer the future of financial services through technology. It has been created to plug start-ups, corporates and innovators into a global network to enable them to connect, co-create, and scale the ‘next big thing’ in financial services. ‘Rise’ hosts numerous open innovation programmes, including the Barclays Accelerator powered by Techstarts at select locations in New York, London, Manchester and in Africa.

Since launching, ‘Rise’ has established multiple partnerships and proofs of concept in order to make Barclays more competitive, as well as support the ecosystem by providing time, expertise and resources with the help of Barclays’ senior executive mentors, industry experts and subject matter expert mentors and funding of up to $100,000 per venture.

Community Innovation: hearScreen

hearScreen offers a solution for the detection of hearing problems in underserved communities utilising generalist community health workers equipped with mobile phones. This allows the decentralised health care at grass roots level.

The patented hearScreen smartphone hearing test, developed and validated at the University of Pretoria, is the first solution for hearing tests operated by untrained personnel with cloud based data management and a referral system that links patients to services.

Corporate Innovation: Resolve Capacity, a division of Resolve Solution Partners, an Imperial Group company

The Clinic-in-a-box solution provides a ready-to-use clinic which has sections for consultations, drugs storage and dispensing and record keeping providing an all-in-one solution without the need for multiple facilities. The units do not have to have a concrete base or slab for installation and can be disassembled and moved if necessary.

This innovation provides affordable quality healthcare to the African continent’s most vulnerable people living in the remotest of places.

Hall of Fame: Vuselela Energy

The Eternity Power Thermal Harvesting power plant is a clean energy power plant based at the Anglo Platinum Waterval Smelting Complex near Rustenburg in the North West Province. The plant uses waste heat from the convertor cooling circuit at the smelter to generate 4.3MW of electricity which is used by the Anglo Platinum Waterval Smelter for its general power consumption. Developed by Vuselela Energy in collaboration with Anglo Platinum, the plant was commissioned in June 2015.

It is the world’s first power plant of its kind and is a reflection of true innovation in the field of energy efficiency.

SMME Innovation: Enviro Options

The Enviro Loo is an innovative, dry sanitation solution that addresses the factors that inhibit the installation of safe, sustainable sanitation. It operates through a process of dehydration and evaporation, occurring naturally through the use of the sun, gravity and wind. The system has zero environmental impact, as it uses no water or chemicals, and the decomposition of the waste takes place in a sealed unit, thus ensuring no water or ground contamination can occur.

Although the toilet system is waterless, there has been provision in the design to provide hand washing and hygiene facilities through the installation of rain water via a collection tank. Using solar technology, the unit is able to power an electric light and fan, not only improving the processing throughout the unit but also providing a dignified experience.

SMME Innovator: Jacques Malan, Director at Eternity Power and Vuselela Energy

Jacques is a Pyro-Metallurgical engineer with 20 years’ experience in the ferrous, base metals, ferro-alloy and refractory industries. His experience includes research and process design through to commissioning and operation of metallurgical plants in South Africa and internationally. Throughout his career, Jacques has specialised in the development of new processes for NICE applications and has authored a number of publications in the metallurgical field.

He was also responsible for the establishment of the first construction design and management compliant Waste Gas to Energy plant in the worldwide Ferro-Alloy industry, a 17MW plant at international Ferro Metals.

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Money talks and electronic gaming evolves

Computer gaming has evolved dramatically in the last two years, as it follows the money, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK in the second of a two-part series.

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The clue that gaming has become big business in South Africa was delivered by a non-gaming brand. When Comic Con, an American popular culture convention that has become a mecca for comics enthusiasts, was hosted in South Arica for the first time last month, it used gaming as the major drawcard. More than 45 000 people attended.

The event and its attendance was expected to be a major dampener for the annual rAge gaming expo, which took place just weeks later. Instead, rAge saw only a marginal fall in visitor numbers. No less than 34 000 people descended on the Ticketpro Dome for the chaos of cosplay, LAN gaming, virtual reality, board gaming and new video games. 

It proved not only that there was room for more than one major gaming event, but also that a massive market exists for the sector in South Africa. And with a large market, one also found numerous gaming niches that either emerged afresh or will keep going over the years. One of these, LAN (for Local Area Network) gaming, which sees hordes of players camping out at the venue for three days to play each other on elaborate computer rigs, was back as strong as ever at rAge.

MWeb provided an 8Gbps line to the expo, to connect all these gamers, and recorded 120TB in downloads and 15Tb in uploads – a total that would have used up the entire country’s bandwidth a few years ago.

“LANs are supposed to be a thing of the past, yet we buck the trend each year,” says Michael James, senior project manager and owner of rAge. “It is more of a spectacle than a simple LAN, so I can understand.”

New phenomena, often associated with the flavour of the moment, also emerge every year.

“Fortnite is a good example this year of how we evolve,” says James. “It’s a crazy huge phenomenon and nobody was servicing the demand from a tournament point of view. So rAge and Xbox created a casual LAN tournament that anyone could enter and win a prize. I think the top 10 people got something each round.”

Read on to see how esports is starting to make an impact in gaming.

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Blockchain unpacked

Blockchain is generally associated with Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, but these are just the tip of the iceberg, says ESET Southern Africa.

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This technology was originally conceived in 1991, when Stuart Haber and W. Scott Stornetta described their first work on a chain of cryptographically secured blocks, but only gained notoriety in 2008, when it became popular with the arrival of Bitcoin. It is currently gaining demand in other commercial applications and its annual growth is expected to reach 51% by 2022 in numerous markets, such as those of financial institutions and the Internet of Things (IoT), according to MarketWatch.

What is blockchain?

A blockchain is a unique, consensual record that is distributed over multiple network nodes. In the case of cryptocurrencies, think of it as the accounting ledger where each transaction is recorded.

A blockchain transaction is complex and can be difficult to understand if you delve into the inner details of how it works, but the basic idea is simple to follow.

Each block stores:

–           A number of valid records or transactions.
–           Information referring to that block.
–           A link to the previous block and next block through the hash of each block—a unique code that can be thought of as the block’s fingerprint.

Accordingly, each block has a specific and immovable place within the chain, since each block contains information from the hash of the previous block. The entire chain is stored in each network node that makes up the blockchain, so an exact copy of the chain is stored in all network participants.

As new records are created, they are first verified and validated by the network nodes and then added to a new block that is linked to the chain.

How is blockchain so secure?

Being a distributed technology in which each network node stores an exact copy of the chain, the availability of the information is guaranteed at all times. So if an attacker wanted to cause a denial-of-service attack, they would have to annul all network nodes since it only takes one node to be operative for the information to be available.

Besides that, since each record is consensual, and all nodes contain the same information, it is almost impossible to alter it, ensuring its integrity. If an attacker wanted to modify the information in a blockchain, they would have to modify the entire chain in at least 51% of the nodes.

In blockchain, data is distributed across all network nodes. With no central node, all participate equally, storing, and validating all information. It is a very powerful tool for transmitting and storing information in a reliable way; a decentralised model in which the information belongs to us, since we do not need a company to provide the service.

What else can blockchain be used for?

Essentially, blockchain can be used to store any type of information that must be kept intact and remain available in a secure, decentralised and cheaper way than through intermediaries. Moreover, since the information stored is encrypted, its confidentiality can be guaranteed, as only those who have the encryption key can access it.

Use of blockchain in healthcare

Health records could be consolidated and stored in blockchain, for instance. This would mean that the medical history of each patient would be safe and, at the same time, available to each doctor authorised, regardless of the health centre where the patient was treated. Even the pharmaceutical industry could use this technology to verify medicines and prevent counterfeiting.

Use of blockchain for documents

Blockchain would also be very useful for managing digital assets and documentation. Up to now, the problem with digital is that everything is easy to copy, but Blockchain allows you to record purchases, deeds, documents, or any other type of online asset without them being falsified.

Other blockchain uses

This technology could also revolutionise the Internet of Things  (IoT) market where the challenge lies in the millions of devices connected to the internet that must be managed by the supplier companies. In a few years’ time, the centralised model won’t be able to support so many devices, not to mention the fact that many of these are not secure enough. With blockchain, devices can communicate through the network directly, safely, and reliably with no need for intermediaries.

Blockchain allows you to verify, validate, track, and store all types of information, from digital certificates, democratic voting systems, logistics and messaging services, to intelligent contracts and, of course, money and financial transactions.

Without doubt, blockchain has turned the immutable and decentralized layer the internet has always dreamed about into a reality. This technology takes reliance out of the equation and replaces it with mathematical fact.

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