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Roadtripping through Africa in a solar-powered car

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A group of university students and lecturers are on a road trip of a different kind as they travel over 4 000km to test out their solar powered car – the Ilanga II fuelled only by the sun, writes JENNI EVANS.

Solar panels? Check. Ion batteries? Check. 3D printer for spares? Check. A group of university students and lecturers are on a road trip of a different kind as they travel over 4 000km to test out their solar powered car the Ilanga II fuelled on nothing by good old sunshine.

“It can do up to 140km/h,” says Nickey Janse van Rensburg, who lectures mechanical engineering at the University of Johannesburg’s Energy Movement lab.

“Because we don’t have a lot of sun today we are doing 90km/h,” she said from the convoy snaking toward the Northern Cape town of Kimberley to show off the vehicle named after the Zulu word for sun.

And every time they stop, they draw a crowd of people keen to see what can be done by a group of bright sparks looking for clean green alternatives.

Resembling a cross between a space pod and a yacht, the aerodynamic lines of the orange and white Ilanga II draws delighted crowds wherever she pulls up. And that is exactly what the university wants – for people in the towns and rural villages along the route to see how green technology can be used in every day life.

Says Janse van Rensburg, the Ilanga II could even be plugged into a wall like a cellphone, if needed, to charge.

The Solar Car Project promotes the study and development of efficient energy use, environmental awareness, energy management and innovative engineering.

On Thursday the residents of Klerksdorp who arrived with their children at the team’s leg-stretching and system-tweaking stop at the Mitsubishi garage were intrigued by what they saw. Her “engine” is 300 lithium ion batteries which work almost like cellphone batteries, and almost 1 000 business card-sized thin solar panels.

Along the route, even mayors have come out to welcome the team which is happy to explain how everything works and tell people about other ways of using “green” technology in their every day life.

And of course, everyone wants to see some laps and they are not disappointed. And then it’s go time again.

Mars Rover

Warren Hurter, engineering project manager at the university’s manufacturing research centre, is one of the three drivers taking turns on the test run.

He explains that the solar panels on top of the vehicle convert the energy from the sun into power in the battery packs.

The solar panels are similar to the solar cards that powered the Mars Rover which wheeled around the red planet looking for signs of water activity, its solar panel “wings” capturing enough energy during the four-hour Mars day to enable it to explore, and communicate with the team on Earth.

The Ilanga II’s tool box is a 3D printer which will be used to replace parts it might need for running repairs. The 3D printer has already produced the steering interface, the buttons, the battery holder and the brackets for the roof panel.

“We haven’t needed to use it as yet,” said Hurter.

They have had a small suspension problem so far, and when they started their journey in Johannesburg the telemetry system which measures the car’s performance was playing up.

“But that’s all part of the experience,” says Hurter who says he was the kid who played with Lego and pulled things apart to spend hours figuring out how to put it all back together again.

Camping along the way they have a support team which stays up until late making adjustments to the vehicle.

The Ilanga II is their third solar-powered car after the Ilanga and the Ilanga 1. Their team hopes to take her to next year’s Sasol Solar Car Challenge where the Ilanga 1.1 scooped the Technology and Innovation Award previously. Local and international solar car developers compete in that race between Pretoria and Cape Town as part of their work on improving the technology and to share ideas.

The race to find energy efficient alternatives has already given rise to the electric hybrids already on the consumer market.

Because the Ilanga II is built around efficiency, it only takes one driver. The team scanned the shape of one of the drivers, placed it into the vehicle and built it around his shape. So only drivers with his shape will fit into her.

Power pumps

The department partnered with UJ’s Prof Vivian Alberts at PTiP Innovations, who developed and internationally patented the thin film photovoltaic technology used on the car. These are very thin solar panels which they hope to pilot in rural communities in the near future, according to the university’s website.

Hurter says the car does not have any luxuries apart from indicators and headlights. The only radio is the two-way radio the team uses to communicate. It is a bit noisy on the inside because it does not have the sound padding that cars usually have, but from the outside, it is very quiet, and has no emissions.

The project has sponsorship from companies such as Eskom and Siemens, and a support convoy provided by Mitsubishi which also wants the crew to log their vehicles’ fuel efficiency for its own studies.

And when will be able drive one? Not in the near future. The Ilanga II Solar Car Project is not being built for sale, but for now is being used to research and develop sustainable and green engineering that can be used in the real world.

They already have plans to introduce the technology to power village pumps.

Spectators can look forward to seeing Ilanga II at pit stops and lectures along its route which will include a trip through Namibia and Botswana.

Her itinerary is: Friday, June 19: Kimberley – Upington (Public Lecture)

Saturday, June 20: (Upington) – Hakskeen Pan – Rietfontein Border Control – KeetmansHoop

Sunday, June 21: Keetmanshoop – Mariental – Rehoboth

Monday, June 22: Rehoboth – Windhoek (Public Lecture)

Tuesday, June 23: Windhoek– Swakopmund – Walvis Bay

Wednesday, June 24: Walvis Bay – Swakopmund

Thursday, June 25: Swakopmund – Windhoek – Buitepos

Friday, June 26: Buitepos – Kang

Saturday, June 27: Kang – Sekoma – Kanye – Gaborone

Sunday, June 28: Gaborone Day (Public Lecture)

Monday, June 29: Gaborone – UJ Solar Lab.

Like UJ Solar Car on Facebook or follow them @UJSolarCar on Twitter.

News24

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http://www.news24.com/SouthAfrica/News/Roadtripping-through-Africa-in-a-solar-powered-car-20150620

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Project prepares Africa’s youth for the future

A partnership between the African Union and VMware is hoped to give new impetus to preparing Africa’s youth for the future, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

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VMware’s Everline Wangu Kamau-Migwi and African Union Commissioner Sara Anyang Agbo at VMworld in Barcelona. Pic by Arthur Goldstuck

The woman in the regal red dress and gold turban cuts a dramatic figure as she sweeps through the halls of the Fira Gan Via expo centre in Barcelona, Spain. She stands out in sharp contrast to thousands of hipsters in hoodies and businessmen in dark suits thronging the halls. But she is on a mission that will bring true relevance to the work of many of these conference delegates

She is Sara Anyang Agbor, Commissioner for HR, Science & Technology at the African Union Commission. Agbor is at the VMworld cloud conference to sign a memorandum of understanding with the event hosts, VMware. They are formalising a shared commitment to developing the next generation of digital leaders in Africa in a project called Virtualise Africa.

When Agbor began her career as as a lecturer in the Department of English at the University of Yaounde in Cameroon in the early 2000s, the last thing she worried about was technological infrastructure. But fast forward a decade and a half, and she talks of little else.

Agbor is passionate about preparing Africa’s youth for the future. Her focus is still on education, but she discusses it in terms far removed from her PhD in English literature.

“Nelson Mandela said it very well, that education is the greatest weapon that can transform the world, but what kind of education are we talking about?” she poses the question after signing the memorandum. 

“We’re talking about the education that can lead to the future of work. It is no longer about us having degrees in history and degrees in English, etcetera. It is no longer important for kids to go to school, just for the sake of going to school and having certificates. It is very important for them to go to school that will give them jobs so that they can become job creators, rather than job seekers.”

To that end, VMware will work with the African Union to bring to the continent the VMware IT Academy, a network of educational institutions that provides students with access to learning certification opportunities and hands-on lab experiences with VMware technologies.

Delegates to VMworld in Barcelona pick up new skills. Pic by Arthur Goldstuck

VMware is the world’s leading developer of software for managing data centres and businesses’ adoption of cloud computing, generally referred to as virtualisation. It is a strategic partner of cloud giants like Amazon Web Services, Microsoft and Oracle, which are all setting up data centres in South Africa, and creating thousands of jobs across the continent. As such, VMware technology skills and certification represent a direct path into careers that are tailor-made for the digital revolution sweeping the world.

Everline Wangu Kamau-Migwi, channel lead for VMware in East Africa, responsible for setting up the VMware IT Academy in the region, says that the agreement is an outcome of the company’s quest to use “technology as a force for good”.

“We asked how we as VMware can play a role in bridging the digital skills in in the African continent,” she says. “Hence Virtualise Africa was born, with a key mandate around education. We’ve partnered with learning institutions, starting with universities, a little over 30 in Africa, where we are now giving them material, learning resources, and labs, and they’re able to access this using a methodology called ‘train the trainer’. 

“It focuses on the faculty, on the staff, for sustainability of the program within the learning institutions. Appreciating the fact that VMware virtualisation is the core of cloud computing, this is a technology that is well-appreciated across Africa. But we find that we are not moving at the pace we need to, especially in the adoption of emerging technologies, because we don’t have those skills.

“VMware also has a huge ecosystem with both a partner and customer ecosystem. So we looked at how we can leverage this ecosystem and ensure that those students who are graduating are able to innovate, are employable, and can be enterprising while doing that.”

Globally, around 550 institutions are part of the programme, with the University of South Africa the first in this country coming on board. VMware also supplies licenses to several thousand institutions around the world to teach the curriculum with its products and solutions. 

Enter the African Union. It has 55 member states, and the bulk of their populations are youths.

“We call it a demographic asset,” says Agbor. “But this demographic asset can also be a demographic liability or a demographic time bomb, if we did not put in place the right resources to capture the mind of the African youth. Over 200 million African youth are unemployed. Many have certificates, but they do not have a job.

“As a result, there is no dream, there is no hope. So now they migrate, looking for the European dream, the Canadian dream or the American dream. But there is an African dream.” 

Read more about the AU’s agenda for 2063.

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Beware biometrics, and other digital dangers

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Traditional passwords nowadays are a weak point as data leaks happen quite often. More and more companies decide to change the approach and adopt biometrics. However, no one is immune to identity theft and there already have been several actual cases of losing biometric data.

To raise awareness on the topic and show that such data requires strong security regulations, cybersecurity company Kaspersky has distinguished several dangers of unsecured biometric data:

  1. Stranger-danger. In order to set face or touch recognition, the system usually requires one sample of a finger or a face. Hence, it is possible for a user to fail authorisation due to lighting conditions or such changes in their appearance as glasses, beards, make-up or aging. On the contrary, it allows cybercriminals to steal this sample and use it according to their malicious aims.
  2. A password for a lifetime. It is not a problem to change a password consisting of numbers and letters, but once you lose your biometric data you lose it forever. The problem with touch recognition can partially be solved by leaving only 2-4 fingerprints, leaving others for emergency cases, but it is still not safe enough.
  3. A digital locker. Existing «digital lockers» rely on cloud-based help – biometric matching usually happens on the server side. If successful, the server provides the decryption key to the client. That increases a risk of a massive data leak – a server hack might lead to the compromising of biometric data.
  4. Biometrics in real life. There are two cases when an ordinary person can encounter biometric authentication. Firstly, banks try to adopt palm scans on ATMs as well as voice authentication on phone-based service desks. Secondly, individual electronic devices use touch and face recognition. However, biometric security is not yet fully developed and there are such constraints as CPU power, sensor price and physical dimensions, so some users have to sacrifice system robustness – some devices can be fooled by a wet paper with fingerprints generated using an ordinary printer or gelatin cast.

To secure biometric data, Kaspersky has recommended:

  • employing stringent security measures against breaches of traditional logins;
  • for businesses it is needed to improve ATM design so as to prevent the installation of skimmers or establishing control over the security of ATM hardware and software. 

As for biometric identification technology in general, Kaspersky has recommended that, for now, it should be  using it as a secondary protection method that complements other security measures, but does not replace them completely.

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