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PE startup invited to Silicon Valley

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The founders of Millbug in Port Elizabeth have been invited on a one-month trip to America to visit Silicon Valley – the world’s most influential dreamland for ICT start-ups.

Millbug – a client of Seda Nelson Mandela Bay ICT Incubator (SNII) in Port Elizabeth –  members Sabelo Sibanda and Thulisile Volwana also founded another company Tuse along with Michael Kyazze.

Shortly after the launch of Tuse’s public beta version of the Tuse application on the Google Play store, they were invited to join Founders Space in Silicon Valley.

Sibanda hails from Port Elizabeth while Volwana is from Engcobo in the Transkei while Kyazze is from Uganda.
Sibanda and Volwana both studied Commerce at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) while Kyazze Michael studied Computer Science at NMMU.

The three met through a mutual friend about three years ago.

“Founders Space are one of the top 10 start-up accelerators in Silicon Valley according to Forbes magazine. During the course of the programme, we will interact with corporates, angel investors and the top venture capitalists in Silicon Valley to hopefully take our offerings to the entire world,” said an excited Sabelo Sibanda, co-founder of Millbug.

The Tuse application, which launched earlier last year, is an Android app that allows people to communicate freely without the need for traditional telecommunication infrastructure.

“The Tuse app had a public beta launched and the feedback the company received from more than 250 beta testers has helped us design the final product was released in late-December last year. An iOS version of the Tuse app is also being developed,” said Sibanda and will be available in February 2016.

“We hope our stay at Silicon Valley will help us build a large network of partners and experts who can help Millbug rapidly deploy our innovations. The problems we are solving are unique and will need significant resources to deploy at scale,” said Sibanda.

Millbug, were the developers of the solar powered Vuya Tablet PC in 2013.

After joining SNII three years ago, Millbug today still benefit from the incubator’s expertise.

“SNII have been of great assistance in getting the device (Vuya Tablet) tested and certified for sale in compliance with South African law,” said Sibanda.

Millbug’s co-founder Thulisile Volwana was also mentioned by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for releasing Africa’s first solar powered tablet, the Vuya Tablet.

The tablet uses wi-fi only for connectivity and takes at least eight hours to charge.
“Being mentioned by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation gave us exposure and it helps when it comes to client and user acquisition. The article is a fantastic endorsement as the Gates Foundation does a lot of really amazing things the world over. It is a privilege for our work to be recognized and acknowledged by them,” said Volwana.

Sibanda said that working towards a smart, safer and green city through technology needed to be sped up in Nelson Mandela Bay.

He recommends that green energy practices be observed as well as the adoption of free communications protocols.

“All smart cities, traditionally, begin with internet ubiquity. This is reliant on the availability of traditional telco infrastructure or open wi-fi initiatives. The wide adoption of the freely available Tuse application would cover a region at almost no cost and ensure safe, decentralised and free communication. Running on our solar powered tablet PCs, we can have a green and smart city through technology which is starting to happen in Port Elizabeth where we have built the required solutions. But there is a long way to go.”

Apart from developing the Vuya Tablet and the Tuse app, they have also developed solutions for various clients from Port Elizabeth, Johannesburg, Cape Town, Ghana, Nigeria and the United Kingdom.

Millbug’s goal is, according to Sibanda, to “always bring happiness to people who need it the most.  Altruistic as it sounds, this implies solutions ubiquity in our chosen field”.
His advice for upcoming businesses is to treat employees with respect and dignity which is the quickest way to succeed.

“They pay it forward to your clients. It’s easy to persevere when everyone has the same goal and vision that you all work together on consistently.”

Sibanda added that there has never been a better time to be a technology entrepreneur. “Focussing solely on making money is the quickest way to fail.”

Sipelo Lupondwana, SNII centre manager, congratulated the Millbug team for being selected to visit Silicon Valley.

“Millbug’s Vuya tablet was successfully commercialised through incubator support last year. The device received various international media attention. Our Enterprise Development team all played a crucial role in successfully commercialising Millbug Vuya,” said Lupondwana.

He added that SNII will continue to be the place where Port Elizabeth’s technology entrepreneurs, young ICT businesses, and inventors with ideas come to in order to be developed into successful enterprises.

“We offer world-class office facilities and spaces, IT infrastructure and connectivity to reduce the cost of doing business. We also have good business coaches, mentors and business support services in place.”

During the 2014/15 financial year SNII 10 new ICT and technology start-ups were established from 11 projects. In terms of job creation from SNII clients, 46 direct jobs, 102 indirect jobs and 25 casual jobs were created for Nelson Mandela Bay’s regional economy during the 2014/15FY.

The combined turnover of SMMEs and incubator beneficiaries added R5,1 million to the regional economy of Port Elizabeth.

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AI, IoT, and language of bees can save the world

A groundbreaking project is combining artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things to learn the language of bees, and save the planet, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

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It is early afternoon and hundreds of bees are returning to a hive somewhere near Reading in England. They are no different to millions of bees anywhere else in the world, bringing the nectar of flowers back to their queen.

But the hive to which they bring their tribute is no ordinary apiary.

Look closer, and one spots a network of wires leading into the structure. They connect up to a cluster of sensors, and run into a box beneath the hive carrying the logo of a company called Arnia: a name synonymous with hive monitoring systems for the past decade. The Arnia sensors monitor colony acoustics, brood temperature, humidity, hive weight, bee counts and weather conditions around the apiary.

On the back of the hive, a second box is emblazoned with the logo of BuzzBox. It is a solar-powered, Wi-Fi device that transmits audio, temperature, and humidity signals, includes a theft alarm, and acts as a mini weather station.

In combination, the cluster of instruments provides an instant picture of the health of the bee hive. But that is only the beginning.

What we are looking at is a beehive connected to the Internet of Things: connected devices and sensors that collect data from the environment and send it into the cloud, where it can be analysed and used to monitor that environment or help improve biodiversity, which in turn improves crop and food production.

The hives are integrated into the World Bee Project, a global honey bee monitoring initiative. Its mission is to “inform and implement actions to improve pollinator habitats, create more sustainable ecosystems, and improve food security, nutrition and livelihoods by establishing a globally-coordinated monitoring programme for honeybees and eventually for key pollinator groups”.

The World Bee Project is working with database software leader Oracle to transmit massive volume of data collected from its hives into the Oracle Cloud. Here it is combined with numerous other data sources, from weather patterns to pollen counts across the ecosystem in which the bees collect the nectar they turn into honey. Then, artificial intelligence software – with the assistance of human analysts – is used to interpret the behaviour of the hive, and patterns of flight, and from there assess the ecosystem.

Click here to read more about how the Internet of Things is used to interpret the language of bees.

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Download speeds ramp up in SA

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All four South African mobile network operators have improved their average download speed experience by at least 1 Mbps in the past six months.

This is one of the main findings in the latest South Africa Mobile Network Experience report by Opensignal, the mobile analytics company. It has analysed the mobile experience in the country, updating a study last conducted in February 2019. While a quick look at its South Africa awards table suggests not much has changed since the last report, it’s far from stagnating. 

Opensignal reports the following improvements across its measurements:

  • MTN remains the leader in our 4G Availability measurements, with a score of 83.6%. But the other three operators are all now within 2 percentage points of the 80% milestone — with Telkom’s users seeing the biggest increase of over 8 points.
  • All four operators improved their Download Speed Experience scores by at least 1 Mbps. But growth in our Upload Speed Experience scores has stagnated, with only winner Vodacom seeing an incremental increase.
  • MTN and Vodacom remain tied for our Video Experience award, and both have increased their scores in the past six months, putting them on the cusp of Very Good (65-75) ratings. Cell C also increased its score to tip over into a Good ranking (55-65).
  • MTN scored over 90% in 4G Availability in two of South Africa’s biggest cities and was just shy of this milestone in the others. Meanwhile, MTN and Vodacom have now passed the 20 Mbps mark in Download Speed Experience in three cities each.

A quick look at the awards table would suggest not much has changed in South Africa since the last report in February. MTN won the 4G Availability award again, Vodacom kept hold of the medals for Upload Speed and Latency Experience, while the two operators tied for Download Speed and Video Experience just as they did six months ago.

But far from stagnating, we’re seeing improvements across most of the measurements. All four of South Africa’s national operators — Cell C, MTN, Telkom and Vodacom — are now closing in on 80% 4G Availability nationally, while at the urban level, MTN has passed the 90% mark in two cities. And in Download Speed Experience, our users on all four operators’ networks saw their scores increase at least 8%.

In this report, Open Signal has analyzed the scores for all four national operators across all their metrics over the 90 days from the start of May 2019, including South Africa’s five biggest cities — Cape Town, Durban, Ekurhuleni, Johannesburg, and Tshwane.

MTN has been top of Open Signal’s South African 4G Availability leaderboard for a couple of years now, and the operator remains dominant with a winning score over 4 percentage points ahead of its rivals. But it was users on Telkom’s network who saw the most impressive boost in 4G Availability, as its score jumped by well over 8 percentage points.

This leap has put Telkom into a three-way draw for second place with Cell C and Vodacom, who both saw their scores increase by at least 3 percentage points.

While MTN is the only operator to have passed 80% in national 4G Availability, the other three players are all less than 2 percentage points away from this milestone. Based on the current rate of improvement, Open Signal fully expects to see all four operators pass the 80% mark in its next report — which will provide testament to the rapid maturing of the South African mobile market.

MTN and Vodacom remain neck-and-neck in the Video Experience analysis, with both operators scoring 65 (out of 100). And the two rivals both saw their scores rise by around 3 points since our last report, meaning the two continue to share our Video Experience award. Cell C and Telkom remain in third and fourth place, but both saw larger increases — of 5 and 4 points respectively — to narrow the gap on the leaders.

The increase in MTN and Vodacom’s Video Experience scores means the two operators are on the cusp of Very Good (65-75) ratings in this metric — with the users on their networks enjoying fast loading video times and almost non-existent stalling, even at higher resolutions. By comparison, Cell C’s score earned it a Good rating (55-65), while Telkom remains in Fair (40-55) territory — meaning users watching video on Telkom’s network, in particular, will likely struggle with longer load times and frequent stuttering, even at lower resolutions.

In terms of 4G-only Video Experience, Cell C’s score has increased enough to tip it over into a Very Good rating — now featuring three operators achieving 4G network scores with a Very Good ranking. And as 4G Availability continues to increase, the overall Video Experience scores will continue to climb, making mobile video viewing more of a viable proposition across all networks. And in a country where fixed-line broadband connections are relatively rare and the large majority of South Africans only connect to the internet via cellular, this improvement has the potential to transform people’s lives.

Read more from Open Signal’s report here.

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