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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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Samsung S10 in lock-step with its rivals?

Tonight Samsung will kick off the next round in the smartphone wars with the S10 range, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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When Samsung unveils the new S10 smartphone at an event in San Francisco today, it will mark the beginning of the 2019 round of World War S. That stands for smartphone wars, although Samsung would like it to be all about the S.

Ever since the launch of the Samsung Galaxy S4 in 2013, Samsung has held both technology and thought leadership in the handset world. Back then, Apple’s iPhone 5 was the last device from the American manufacturer that could lay claim to being the best smartphone in the world. With the 2013 launch of the iPhone 5s, Apple entered an era of incremental improvement, playing catch-up, and succumbing to market trends driven by its competitors.

Six years later, Samsung is fighting off the same threat. Its Chinese rival, Huawei, suddenly wrested away leadership in the past year, with the P20 Pro and Mate 20 Pro regarded as at last equal to the Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus and Galaxy Note 9 – if not superior. Certainly, from a cost perspective, Huawei took the lead with its more competitive prices, and therefore more value for money.

Huawei also succeeded where Apple failed: introducing more economical versions of its flagship phones. The iPhone 5c, SE and XR have all been disappointments in the sales department, mainly because the price difference was not massive enough to attract lower-income users. In contrast, the Lite editions of the Huawei P9, P10 and P20 have been huge successes, especially in South Africa.

Today, for the first time in half a decade, Samsung goes into battle on a field laid out by its competitors. It is expected to launch the Galaxy S10 Plus, S10 and S10 e, with the latter being the Samsung answer to the strategy of the iPhone XR and Huawei P20 Lite.

Does this mean Samsung is now in lock-step with its rivals, focused on matching their strategies rather than running ahead of them?

It may seem that way, but Samsung has a few tricks up its electronic sleeve. For example, it is possible it will use the S10 launch to announce its coming range of foldable phones, expected to be called the Galaxy X, Galaxy F, Galaxy Fold or Galaxy Flex. It previewed the technology at a developer conference in San Francisco last November, and this will be the ideal moment to reclaim technology leadership by going into production with foldables – even if the S10 range itself does not shoot out the lights.

However, the S10 handsets will look very different to their predecessors. First, before switching on the phone, they will be notable by the introduction of what is being called the punch-hole display, which breaks away from the current trend of having a notch at the top of the phone to house front-facing cameras and speakers. Instead, the punch-hole is a single round cut-out that will contain the front camera. It is the key element of Samsung’s “Infinity O” display – the O represents the punchhole – which will be the first truly edge-to-edge display, on the sides and top.

The S10 range will use the new Samsung user interface, One UI, also unveiled at the developer conference. It replaces the previous “skin”, unimaginatively called the Samsung Experience, to introduce a strong new interface brand.

One UI went live on the Note 8 last month, giving us a foretaste, and giving Samsung a chance to iron out the bugs in the field. It is a less cluttered interface, addressing one of the biggest complaints about most manufacturer skins. Only Nokia and Google Pixel handsets offer pure Android in the local market, but One UI is Samsung’s best compromise yet.

It introduces a new interaction area, in the bottom half, reachable with the thumb, with a viewing area at the top, allowing the user to work one-handed on the bottom area while still having apps or related content visible above. One UI also improves gesture navigation – the phone picks up hand movements without being touched – and notification management.

The S10 range will be the first phones to feature the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 chip, at least for the South African and American markets. That makes it 5G compatible, for when this next generation of mobile broadband becomes available in these markets.

They will also be the first phones to feature Wi-Fi 6, the next generation of the Wi-Fi mobile wireless standard. It will perform better in congested areas, and data transfer will be up to 40% faster than the previous generation.

The phones will be the first to use ultrasound for fingerprint detection. If Samsung gets it right, this will make it the fastest in-screen fingerprint sensor on the market, and allows for a little leeway if one pushes the finger down slightly outside the fingerprint reader surface. It does mean, however, that screen protectors will have to be redesigned to avoid blocking the detection.

Not enough firsts? There are a few more.

Most notably, it will be the first phone range to feature 1 Terabyte (TB) storage – that’s a thousand Gigabytes (GB) – at least for the top-of-the-range devices. Samsung last month announced that it would be the first manufacturer to make 1TB built-in onboard flash storage. Today, it will deploy this massive advantage as it once again weaponises its technology in the fight for smartphone domination.

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

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IoT set to improve authentication

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By Sherry Zameer, Senior Vice President, Internet of Things Solutions for CISMEA region at Gemalto

As it rapidly approaches maturity, the Internet of Things (IoT) is set to continue a transformational trajectory, introducing new efficiencies in multiple fields by allowing measurement and analysis on a scale that has never been possible before. From agriculture to logistics, from retail to hospitality, from traffic to health, from the home to the office, the applications for monitoring ”things” are limited only by the imagination.

And South African (and African) businesses are showing abundant imagination in their practical deployments of IoT solutions in multiple settings, creating a better tomorrow through almost universal measurement and the introduction of new levels of convenience – including how to access locations, devices and services securely.

Any company, whether South African or international, should bear in mind that understanding consumer expectations can be the key to unlocking the full potential of IoT devices and related smart services.

According to Gemalto’s latest Connected Living study, improving the way consumers authenticate themselves to services is one of the most anticipated benefits of IoT, highlighting a desire for a more seamless and secure IoT experience.

Consumers are interested in advanced ways of authenticating themselves through automatic (based on behavioral patterns) or biometric techniques, lessening the need to have to intervene manually, all in the name of a much more streamlined authentication process. Smartphone manufacturers like Apple and Samsung have already placed fingerprint and facial recognition high on the agenda. There is also a widespread positive sentiment towards IoT’s potential for improving the quality of home life through connected, smart appliances.

Personalised services is something else that wins consumers over. In fact, a fluid, personalised and unified experience with continuity of services, together with security and privacy, is critical for the successful implementation of any technology.

And those types of services are today quite possible. With everything being connected – from small gadgets to digital solutions for large enterprises – IoT is no longer just a buzzword. That much is clear in a piece from Vodacom IoT managing executive Deon Liebenberg. Writing for IOL Online, Liebenberg provides insight into the sheer range of applications for IoT: the 20 use cases he cites range from the obvious, like transport and logistics, to the connected home and wearables; he even suggests tagging pets with IoT transmitters, for those who always need to know the whereabouts of the family cat.

Low-cost tags fitted to cats, dogs, lamp posts, shipping containers or other items are just one part of the puzzle, however. There are other two pieces; arguably the most complex part is the availability of communication networks in areas where there aren’t any WiFi networks, or indeed, anything else.

And that’s where the bigger takeaway from Liebenberg’s piece and other IoT trends articles becomes apparent. The communication networks are there, as are those tags: dedicated IoT networks (like LoraWAN, SigFox and narrowband IoT) are all available in South Africa.

So, too, is the third and final essential component. Software which is able to process the data generated by the tag and transmitted over the IoT network and into the internet. In this regard, there’s no shortage of solutions available from cloud providers like AWS and Azure; electronics giant Siemens, too, is in on the action, having recently launched a new cloud-based IoT operating system to develop applications and services for process industries, including oil and gas and water management.

This combination means it is quite possible right now to enable just about any use case. Business owners, who will know best how IoT can add value in their organisation, can now see their ideas becoming reality. Most crucial of all, IoT solutions delivering new levels of efficiency and convenience are not only possible, they are able to be offered with the simple and effective security that will drive consumer acceptance.

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