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How IoT can make the world a better place

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The IoT, promises tremendous uses: from smart autonomous cars, to home automation, to smart farming, and millions more. However, the success of it resides in if and how people adopt it. RICHARD BARRY, CEO of Polymorph, expands in three elements that will drive IoT.

The Internet of Things (IoT) has caused unprecedented hype among technologists, software developers, futurists and industrialists. Estimates of the adoption of IoT vary from anywhere between 2.38-billion devices shipped in 2017 (Gartner) to 50.1-billion devices connected by 2020 (World Economic Forum). McKinsey projects that IoT will be a $6.2-trillion industry by 2025. The public and private sectors have started investing heavily in IoT to capitalise on its uses and (projected) exponential growth: software company SAP plans to invest $2.2-billion in IoT by 2020, while India has announced a package of $2-trillion to connect 100 cities around the country.

The uses of IoT – from smart autonomous cars that self-direct to less congested roadways during peak traffic hours, to home automation, to smart farming, and millions more – all have one thing in common: they are designed to make the world a more efficient place to live and work in. This efficiency is driven by access to quality data that did not exist before and matching this to data analysis and automation to deliver insights and solutions faster than has been possible before.

Pundits are quick to point to IoT-enabled clothing that can track the wearer’s fitness and health and inform nearby connected devices when it’s time to replace the piece of clothing (in an ideal world, per the pundits, the piece of clothing in question would interact with a connected device to order a replacement garment without the wearer even being aware of the need therefore in the first place). The combination of IoT and automation (enabled by AI/machine learning) is humanity’s surest step yet to the world imagined by the great science fiction writers of the past century.

Amid all this excitement and hype, we are at risk of missing one critical component to the success of IoT – and any other technology: the human element.

Whatever the inherent potential of a new technology, its success ultimately resides in if and how people adopt it. For IoT to live up to its promise of efficiency, safety and convenience, human beings – not processors and data – should be the focal point.

I believe there are three key elements that will drive IoT as the catalyst of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, namely:

1.       Using smart connected devices to enable people to make smarter decisions – core to the premise of smart cities, smart cars, smart manufacturing and all manner of smart devices is that you can only manage what you can measure. Millions – billions – of connected devices generating real-time data give decision-makers unprecedented amounts of accurate information that enables them to identify and act on the best possible option at any given time. While the devices that generate the data are invaluable, it is ultimately the human ability to determine context and extract value from the data that will realise the true benefits of the technology.

2.       Providing real-time information to people and business to improve the customer experience – user experience (UX) is a concept nearly as hyped as IoT. The core premise is to make technology interfaces and processes as intuitive as possible to improve the experience of using software, products or services. IoT adds a deeper layer to this – instead of waiting for the user to interact in a certain way and accommodating their preferred way of interaction through clever design, IoT can proactively introduce information or guidance to users before they are consciously aware that they need or want something. For example, a small-scale farmer can deploy sensors to his crops that feed critical information to a mobile app, advising him of optimal watering of his crops to produce a bigger yield while limiting water consumption.

3.       Complete dedication to solving human problems – in essence, all technology needs to be useful, accessible and available for it to become part of mainstream consumer and business culture. IoT is no different. Through a combination of data analysis and automation, IoT should be able to remove day-to-day frustrations such as traffic congestion or queueing at the bank. It however needs to be consciously designed for this purpose, or IoT will remain an unfulfilled promise to people and businesses alike.

Without a focus on the human element, IoT is simply a solution looking for a problem. As with all truly transformative technologies, its success will ultimately depend on how well it adapts to the needs of a rapidly evolving and developing human population. All the fundamental elements are there to make IoT the technology that shapes this generation (and many generations to come) – if we remember that, in the end, it is ourselves – not the technology we invent – that needs to be the priority.

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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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