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Hi-tech reinvents the massage

Virtual reality is invading the world of health and beauty – or is the other way round? ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK discovers a new role for VR through the art of massage.

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Sheer Bliss founder Nadine Hocter gives Bryan Turner a VR massage at the World Wide Worx offices

That may have been accidental, but taking the business to a new level was not. Nadine heard Sorbet founder Ian Fuhr talk at the launch of a small business competition called Eureka. It is run by ORT SA, a non-profit organisation that trains thousands of South Africans in business development, teacher training, skills development, work readiness programmes and basic computer literacy.

“I had another business that I entered into the Eureka competition and this is where I got to know ORT,” says Nadine. “I am a single mom and I had never been in a position to educate myself on business. I just happen to have been very business savvy.

“I did the business bootcamp and learned so much about running a business, things that I was doing but learned to do better and, in some cases, learned things that I had avoided because I didn’t know how – like reading my financial statements! Now I have a good handle on all of the elements of the business and when I am stuck, I can easily reach out to someone in my ORT network for help.”

The climax of that story was being named Business of the Year 2018 in the annual ORT Jet mentorship programme.

“ORT has absolutely changed the way that I do business, I keep a close eye on my numbers and I am very clear with roles in the company. Since being a part of ORT I have stopped working ‘in’ my business and work ‘on’ it instead.”

Surprisingly, while the transition from a traditional beauty business to a high-tech, high-volume business was difficult, it was not complex.

“We did this very quickly, tested and tried a lot of different headsets and content, but it was not easy in the least. We had a deadline of three weeks to get it right and we did. There was very little support for VR and the space is still very small, so I find myself networking and developing really good relationships with anyone in the space so that we can all learn from each other. Now we have created our own content with South African beaches.”

Finding the right content was just one challenge. The team found that VR devices overheat, batteries go flat, and Internet access would always be a challenge out in the field. On top of that, VR technology is still only an approximation of reality.

“We are currently using Samsung Gear as we find it to be the most comfortable headset, but the resolution is not always as good as we would like. We are also looking at the Oculus VR headsets.”

However, those experiencing it for the first time quickly forget the pixelation of images.

“The general response is ‘Wow!’. So many people have not yet experienced VR, and giving our clients first time experiences has been magical. We really enjoy watching people look around inside the headset. When they come out of it, they have so many great ideas.”

Not that it is ideal for everyone. The downside, says Nadine, has been that people who have epilepsy trend to be nervous. And those who are claustrophobic don’t want something on their face. 

Through constant development, testing and refinement, such problems can be overcome. And that process, in turn, opens new opportunities.

“The cost of content is high and, as a small business, it is a challenge to splash out on content. We hope to cultivate a good library of South African landscapes over time. Ideally, we will move into the advertising space and use VR video with massage to give potential clients something different.”

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

Visit the next page to read about how massage tech is in the spotlight this year.

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IoT sensors are anything from doctor to canary in mines

Industrial IoT is changing the shape of the mining industry and the intelligence of the devices that drive it

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The Internet of Things (IoT) has become many things in the mining industry. A canary that uses sensors to monitor underground air quality, a medic that monitors healthcare, a security guard that’s constantly on guard, and underground mobile vehicle control. It has evolved from the simple connectivity of essential sensors to devices into an ecosystem of indispensable tools and solutions that redefine how mining manages people, productivity and compliance. According to Karien Bornheim, CEO of Footprint Africa Business Solutions (FABS), IoT offers an integrated business solution that can deliver long-term, strategic benefits to the mining industry.

“To fully harness the business potential of IoT, the mining sector has to understand precisely how it can add value,” she adds. “IoT needs to be implemented across the entire value chain in order to deliver fully optimised, relevant and turnkey operational solutions. It doesn’t matter how large the project is, or how complex, what matters is that it is done in line with business strategy and with a clear focus.”

Over the past few years, mining organisations have deployed emerging technologies to help bolster flagging profits, manage increasingly weighty compliance requirements, and reduce overheads. These technologies are finding a foothold in an industry that faces far more complexities around employee wellbeing and safety than many others, and that juggles numerous moving parts to achieve output and performance on a par with competitive standards. Already, these technologies have allowed mines to fundamentally change worker safety protocols and improve working conditions. They have also provided mining companies with the ability to embed solutions into legacy platforms, allowing for sensors and IoT to pull them into a connected net that delivers results.

“The key to achieving results with any IoT or technology project is to partner with service providers, not just shove solutions into identified gaps,” says Bornheim. “You need to start in the conceptual stage and move through the pre-feasibility and bankable feasibility stages before you start the implementation. Work with trained and qualified chemical, metallurgical, mechanical, electrical, instrumentation and structural engineers that form a team led by a qualified engineering lead with experience in project management. This is the only way to ensure that every aspect of the project is aligned with the industry and its highly demanding specifications.”

Mining not only has complexities in compliance and health and safety, but the market has become saturated, difficult and mercurial. For organisations to thrive, they must find new revenue streams and innovate the ways in which they do business. This is where the data delivered by IoT sensors and devices can really transform the bottom line. If translated, analysed and used correctly, the data can provide insights that allow for the executive to make informed decisions about sites, investment and potential.


“The cross-pollination of different data sets from across different sites can help shift dynamics in plant operation and maintenance, in the execution of specific tasks, and so much more,” says Bornheim. “In addition, with sensors and connected devices and systems, mining operations can be managed intelligently to ensure the best results from equipment and people.”

The connection of the physical world to the digital is not new. Many of the applications currently being used or presented to the mining industry are not new either. What’s new is how these solutions are being implemented and the ways in which they are defined. It’s more than sticking on sensors. It’s using these sensors to streamline business across buildings, roads, vehicles, equipment, and sites. These sensors and the ways in which they are used or where they are installed can be customised to suit specific business requirements.

“With qualified electronic engineers and software experts, you can design a vast array of solutions to meet the real needs of your business,” says Bornheim. “Our engineers can programme, create, migrate and integrate embedded IoT solutions for microcontrollers, sensors, and processors. They can also develop intuitive dashboards and human-machine interfaces for IoT and machine-to-machine (M2M) devices to manage the input and output of a wide range of functionalities.”

The benefits of IoT lie in its ubiquity. It can be used in tandem with artificial intelligence or machine learning systems to enhance analytics, improve the automation of basic processes and monitor systems and equipment for faults. It can be used alongside M2M applications to enhance the results and the outcomes of the systems and their roles. And it can be used to improve collaboration and communication between man, machine and mine.

“You can use IoT platforms to visualise mission-critical data for device monitoring, remote control, alerts, security management, health and safety and healthcare,” concludes Bornheim. “The sky is genuinely the limit, especially now that the cost of sensors has come down and the intelligence of solutions and applications has gone up. From real-time insights to hands-on security and safety alerts to data that changes business direction and focus, IoT brings a myriad of benefits to the table.”

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Oracle leads in clash of
e-commerce titans

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Three e-commerce platforms have been awarded “gold medals” for leading the way in customer experience. SoftwareReviews, a division of Info-Tech Research Group, named Oracle Commerce Cloud the leader in its 2020 eCommerce Data Quadrant Awards, followed by Shopify Plus and IBM Digital Commerce. The awards are based on user reviews. 
The three vendors received the following citations:

  • Oracle Commerce Cloud ranked highest among software users, earning the number-one spot in many of the product feature section areas, shining brightest in reporting and analytics, predictive recommendations, order management, and integrated search. 
  • Shopify Plus performed consistently well according to users, taking the number-one spot for catalogue management, shopping cart management and ease of customisation.
  • IBM Digital Commerce did exceptionally well in business value created, quality of features, and vendor support.

The SoftwareReviews Data Quadrant differentiates itself with insightful survey questions, backed by 22 years of research in IT. The study involves gathering intelligence on user satisfaction with both product features and experience with the vendor. When distilled, the customer’s experience is shaped by both the software interface and relationship with the vendor. Evaluating enterprise software along these two dimensions provides a comprehensive understanding of the product in its entirety and helps identify vendors that can deliver on both for the complete software experience.

“Our recent Data Quadrant in e-commerce solutions provides a compelling snapshot of the most popular enterprise-ready players, and can help you make an informed, data-driven selection of an e-commerce platform that will exceed your expectations,” says Ben Dickie, research director at Info-Tech Research Group. 

“Having a dedicated e-commerce platform is where the rubber hits the road in transacting with your customers through digital channels. These platforms provide an indispensable array of features, from product catalog and cart management to payment processing to detailed transaction analytics.”

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