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IoT takes pulse of nature

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The Internet of Things and other mobile tech offers us the ability to advance our efforts in preserving and saving the environment, writes RESHAAD SHA, Chief Executive Officer, SqwidNet.

Humanity today finds itself living in what is defined as the ‘Anthropocene Age’, or the age of man. This is characterised by the massive environmental modifications occurring on Earth, encompassing such issues as climate change and the rapid loss of biodiversity. Fortunately, there is another age we are also living in at present, namely the ‘Information Age’, where the Internet, social networks, mobile devices and incredible computing power mean that people and things are being more connected than at any time in the past.

The latter clearly offers humanity a huge opportunity to change the impact of the former, as there is enormous potential for data analytics and technology to play a major role in monitoring, modelling and responding to the challenges of global biodiversity loss and climate change. The rise of the Internet of Things (IoT) in particular, provides us with an opportunity to continuously monitor the pulse of the natural world.

The IoT has taken off, thanks to cost effective, production at scale of high-tech sensors that enable scientists to capture more comprehensive and complete data in a more contextual, frequent and secure manner than was previously possible.

There are, in fact, multitudes of ways that the IoT is enabling more frequent monitoring of the natural environment, and on a much larger spatial scale. Sensors today allow for finer resolution monitoring to take place in previously inaccessible or dangerous locations, as these allow for the automated capture of data. This means that once activated, these devices require minimal further human involvement. It is obvious that solutions such as these offer clear benefits to conservation science and management.

Ultimately, being able to gather and analyse vast amounts of data rapidly will enable humanity to close the environmental loop, as it will allow us to find out what the consequences of our actions are and thus ensure we take smarter actions as a result. Of course, the environment is a vast and complex entity, so the first question we will need to answer is what do we want to measure? Once we know this, we need to decide what we do with this data and – once we have used the data – how we can manage things differently, based on this information.

Real world applications

The good news is that there are scientists and conservationists out there already hard at work using the IoT to answer these questions. Spain offers a fantastic example of how to save a species on the verge of extinction, using technology. At the turn of the century, there were fewer than 100 Iberian lynxes left. Thanks to a cutting edge captive breeding centre, the numbers within this critically endangered species have more than tripled and it is now being reintroduced into safe habitats, as a second stage of this repopulation effort.

Today, these lynxes are tracked with location collars that geo-reference individual animals in the same manner as an asset management system would. This enables scientists to study behavioural uses of space and territories by these animals in the wild. In addition, connected drones are used to provide additional monitoring, to see how they are doing from a distance. The next step is to move away from the current battery-dependant collars to subcutaneous sensors that would remain under the lynx’s skin for its entire lifetime.

Another good example of IoT-related conservation is the efforts being put in place by the Sigfox Foundation. Its parent company, Sigfox, has recently partnered with Dark Fibre Africa to launch SqwidNet, an IoT network that is built on Sigfox technology. The Foundation is currently using connected sensors to assist conservationists in better monitoring rhino populations, since there are only estimated to be around 29 000 individual animals left.

Although still in prototype form, it uses a GPS tracker that is implanted in the horns of the rhinos, which securely sends out three GPS signals per day via the Sigfox network, on a dedicated secured platform. By knowing the exact locations of these animals, the conservationists are thus better able to protect them. The end goal, naturally, is to produce 29 000 connected sensors to monitor all the living rhinos around the world.

Just a few months ago, there was much ado about three male lions that escaped from the Kruger Park. Despite valiant attempts to find and bring them back to the reserve, two were killed by a farmer after he discovered they had killed one of his cattle, and the third was put down by SA National Parks staff.

This sad story serves to illustrate yet again the benefits of location tracking and real-time IoT connectivity. Had these lions been tagged the way the rhinos in the Sigfox project are, it would have been easy to determine where these animals were at any given time, and SAN Parks staff could have darted them and returned them to Kruger long before they attacked any cattle.

Of course, the three examples given above are just some of the more basic methods conservationists are using to improve the natural world. Many others can also be cited, including initiatives whereby drones are being used as an anti-poaching measure, or where GPS-tagged sharks not only provide scientists with invaluable information about the animals themselves, but the tags can also tweet the locations of these fish to nervous beach-goers. Remote camera traps are starting to lead to the discovery or rediscovery of species in inaccessible regions while still others are using this technology to enable the monitoring of illegal fishing.

The IoT and other modern technologies clearly offer humanity the chance to significantly change the game as far as conservation goes, giving us the tools to tackle some of the trickiest problems facing the natural environment. By properly leveraging the benefits of the Information Age, we at last have the opportunity to eliminate some the greatest challenges posed by the Anthropocene Age.

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Android Go puts reliable smartphones in budget pockets

Nokia, Vodacom and Huawei have all launched entry-level smartphones running the Android Go edition, and all deliver a smooth experience, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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Three new and notable Android Go smartphones have recently hit the market, namely the Nokia 1, the Vodafone Smart Kicka 4 and the Huawei Y3 (2018). These phones run one of the most basic versions of Android while still delivering a fairly smooth user experience.

Historically, consumers purchasing smartphones in the budget bracket would have a hit-and-miss experience with processing speed, smoothness of user interface, and app stability. The Google-supported Android Go edition operating system optimises the user experience by stripping out non-important visual effects to speed up the phone. Thish allows for more memory to be used by apps. 

Google also ensures that all smartphones running Android Go will receive feature and security updates as they are released by Google. This is a major selling point for these smartphones, as users of this smartphone will always be running the latest software, with virtually no manufacturer bloatware.

Vodafone Smart Kicka 4

At the lowest entry-level, the Vodafone Smart Kicka 4 performs well as a communicator for emails and WhatsApp messages. The 4” screen represents a step up for entry-level Android phones, which were previously standardised at 3.5”.

The display is bright and very responsive, while the limited screen real estate leaves the navigation keys off the screen as touch buttons. It uses 3G connectivity, which might seem like an outdated technology, but is good enough to stream SD videos and music. Vodacom has also thrown in some data gifts if the smartphone is activated before the end of September 2018. 

Its camera functionalities might be a slight let down for the aspirant Instagrammer, with a 2MP rear flash camera and a 0.3MP selfie snapper. Speed wise, the keyboard pops up quickly, which is a huge improvement from the Smart Kicka 3. However, this phone will not play well with graphics-intensive games. 

Nokia 1

Next up is the Nokia 1, which adds a much better 5MP camera, improved battery life and a bigger 4.5” screen. It supports LTE, which allows this smartphone to download and upload at the speed of flagships. It also sports the Nokia brand name, which many consumers trust.

Although the front camera is 2MP, the quality is extremely grainy, even with good lighting. This disqualifies this smartphone for the social media selfie snapper, but the 5MP rear camera will work for the landscape and portrait photographer. 

The screen also redeems this smartphone, providing a display which represents colours truly and has great viewing angles. Xpress-on back covers allows the use of interchangeable, multi-coloured back covers, which has proven to be a successful sales point for mid-range smartphones in the past. 

Huawei Y3 (2018)

The most capable of the Android Go edition competitors, the Huawei Y3 (2018) packs an even bigger screen at 5”, as well as an improved 8MP rear camera and HD video recording. The screen is the brightest and most vibrant of the three smartphones, but seems to be calibrated to show colours a little more saturated than they actually are. 

Nevertheless, the camera outperforms the other smartphones with good colour replication and great selfie capabilities via the 2MP front camera – far superior to the Nokia 1 despite the same spec. LTE also comes standard with this smartphone and Vodacom throws in 4G/LTE data goodies until the end of September 2018. The battery, however, is not removable and may only be replaced by a warranty technician.

Comparing the 3

All three smartphones have removable back covers, which provide access to the battery, SIM card and SD card slots. The smartphones have Micro USB ports on the bottom with headphone jacks on the top. The built-in speakers all performed well, with the Y3 (2018) housing an exceptionally loud built-in speaker. 

Although all at different price points, all three phones remain similar in performance and speed. The differentiators are apparent in the components, like camera quality and screen quality. It would be fair to rank the quality of the camera and battery life by respective market prices. The Vodafone Smart Kicka 4 performed well, for its R399 retail price. The Nokia 1, on the other hand, lags quite a bit in features when compared to the Huawei Y3 (2018), bwith oth retailing at R999.

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SA gets digital archive

As the world entered the centenary of Nelson Mandela’s birth on Mandela Day, 18 July 2018, South Africa celebrated the launch of a digital living archive. 

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The southafrica.co.za  site carries content about the country’s collective heritage in South Africa’s eleven official languages.

Designed as a nation building,  educational and brand promotion web based tool, the free-to-view platform features award-winning photographic and written content by leading South African photographers, authors, academics and photojournalists.

The emphasis is on quality, credible, factual content that celebrates a collective heritage in terms of the following: Cultural Heritage; Natural Heritage; Education; History; Agriculture; Industry; Mining; and Travel.

At the same time as reflecting on the nation’s history, southafrica.co.za celebrates South Africa’s natural, cultural and economic assets so that the youth can learn about their nation in their home language.

Southafrica.co.za Founder and CEO Hans Gerrizen conceptualised southafrica.co.za as a means for youth and communities from outlying areas to benefit from the digital age in terms of the web tool’s empowering educational component.

“We can only stand to deepen our collective experience of democracy and become a more forward planning nation if we know facts about our nation’s past and present in everyone’s home language,” he says.

Southafrica.co.za, with sister company Siyabona Africa, is the organiser and sponsor of the Mandela: 100 Moments photographic exhibition that runs until 30 September at Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront-based Nelson Mandela Gateway to Robben Island.  The 3-month exhibition, which runs daily from 08h00 until 15h00, is showcasing one hundred iconic Nelson Mandela images taken by veteran South African photojournalist and self-taught lensman Peter Magubane.

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