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Smart lighting gets cities going smart

While a discussion around implementing Smart City initiatives can often get city planners and managers excited about the opportunities that technology can enable, the budget available is often the biggest stumbling block to getting started, says DAVID WEBBER – Global Public Safety Expert, Huawei Enterprise Business Group.

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However, the desire to move a nation (or region or city) higher up the value chain cannot be carried out as a single project. Authorities have to apply a long-term vision, and then put in place the programmes and initiatives that are aimed at achieving their objectives. Beyond just looking at cost, cities need to look at what value these investments will bring. 

This makes the transition toward becoming a Smart City more of a journey with a travel guide, rather than a definite set of projects with fixed budgets and timeframes. 

There are low hanging fruit that cities can take advantage of. To see the possibilities, it is important to know where the typical cities of today are burning money in their daily operations; and tackling those challenges can improve operational efficiencies and provide dramatic cost savings. 

The easiest place where authorities can start is with street lighting, which can fall into one of two categories: either there is none, but the city would love to install it, or they have existing lighting, but it doesn’t cover all areas and the infrastructure is expensive to operate and maintain. 

Significant energy cost savings

The first change is fairly straightforward, the electricity utility can simply replace old fluorescent bulbs for new LED ones, which use less power and last longer with less maintenance required. 

However, the ability for streetlights to be part of an intelligent network, just like any other piece of network equipment is capable of – via the copper wire-based electricity network coupled with modern wide area narrow band NB-IoT control communications, is where the real advantages lie for city authorities or utility companies. 

Combining connectivity and sensors enable smart lights, which can measure ambient lighting and use motion sensors to turn lights on and off as needed, such as when people or vehicles pass by a particular area. This can help municipalities save up to 80% on lighting energy costs as compared to using traditional street lights, and allow them to free up resources for other improvements. 

Having connected street lights and a city-wide communications network means that city authorities also no longer have to worry about routine inspections to see which lights need replacing. As they are connected to a central control system, smart street lights can report when and why they fail, helping cities realise up to a 90% savings in maintenance and service costs.

Enabling new services, improving public safety

Connected street lights can do more than just save money for a municipality; it gives them the opportunity to use the same network to enable additional services, including WiFi connectivity for local businesses and residents.

Similarly, the infrastructure can be used for a wide variety of smart city services, such as using motion sensors to identify open parking spaces, using live location information at bus stops to improve the residents’ commute. When combined with other smart meters, city authorities can even shift to getting automatic usage reporting for electricity, gas and water being delivered along a particular street.

Utilities can even enter new markets, such as the provision of charging services for the growing number of electric vehicles. This can be as simple as installing a built in power socket on the street light pole at the same time as traditional lights are being replaced with LEDs and motion sensors are being installed. 

There are many intangible benefits beyond the cost savings or new revenue that a municipality might stand to benefit from. Improved communication capabilities help enhance emergency response and utility support, while research shows that good street lighting helps reduce crime by up to 20%. 

Access to smart infrastructure and city-wide WiFi not only improves the quality of life for residents, but also impacts positively on business prospects and property values

Doing nothing not an option

How much cities need to invest in getting a smart lighting project started depends on the types of existing street lights and the cost of the replacements. It is not a simple formula, and engineers will be required to produce a formal plan. 

Once the core communications network is installed and the smart street light poles deployed, additional smart infrastructure or services can be added in a phased approach. Upgrades can also be carried out suburb by suburb rather than the entire city at once.

Experience with such initiatives around the world have shown they typical return on investment to be between three and five years, with the shortest being two years, and the longest being seven years. 

However, cities cannot afford to not invest for the future. They can clearly see how much they are spending today on street lighting and project their future requirements accordingly. Certainly, if they do nothing, the existing street lighting will continue to burn money that they could have saved on.

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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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