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Quest for smart cities

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Smart cities are no longer just a consideration, but are now a global necessity. RESHAAD SHA, Chief Strategy Officer at DFA believes now is the perfect time for South Africa to implement the basics to get itself ready for the smart city revolution.

In the past, the concept of smart cities may have been a lofty consideration for a Sunday afternoon, but smart cities are no longer a preference—they are quickly becoming a critical necessity. This is due to the confluence of increasing urbanization, greater pressure being placed on the successful management of a city due to a rising population, and climate change. The latter in particular means that a city needs to have the wherewithal to manage a sudden natural crisis, such as flooding, and be able to dispatch emergency and medical units without delay to save lives.

Compounding matters is the fact that, according to Gartner, the digitization of IT (1) is further forcing cities to adapt, and, like most businesses, have a digital strategy in place. Smart cities are far from a flash in the pan—according to Transparency Market Research, the global smart cities market is growing 14% at present and is expected to reach a value of $1 265.85 billion by 2019.

Benefit bounty

The benefits of smart cities are wide ranging, affecting a broad spectrum of industries and making life easier for residents in a multitude of ways. Take for example the healthcare sector that could be positively impacted. Local and provincial hospitals currently deliver services in isolation, and patient records are not mutually accessible. Yet, in a smart city with integrated systems, standardized records will be available regardless of which hospital the patient visits. This process will provide better service to the patient, and more accurate national health information to the relevant authorities.

ICT research company, International Data Corporation (IDC) notes that South Africa is the leader when it comes to smart city technology in Africa. (2)  All three of our biggest cities  ̶  Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Durban  ̶  have put into operation some variants of smart city solutions.

The benefits of living in a smart city are plentiful, if the ‘smart’ part is implemented correctly and the city is well managed. For governments it means that cities can be better monitored and looked after, but also improved. An example of this could entail a network of sensors being placed in the drainage system. It would be able to provide indications of where blockages are occurring, and during flooding, also real-time information of where the biggest trouble spots are. Furthermore, through e-government initiatives, cities would be able to improve governmental processes to its stakeholders, including businesses and citizens. This includes many online services which could cut down on process cost and time. Examples of this includes SARS’s highly successful eFiling system, and the online application for car licence renewals or the registration of new businesses.

Locally, service delivery stands to benefit significantly from having effective systems and processes in place. The implementation of the City of Joburg’s “load-limiting” smart meter is one such instance, enabling the power utility to better monitor and manage electricity supply. During periods where the electricity grid is under pressure, households will be alerted to turn off high-consumption appliances to avoid full power cuts.

Smart cities explained

But what exactly is a smart city? In a nutshell, a smart city should provide the technology framework that enables its citizens, its resident businesses, its varied government and non-government stakeholders, and itself to be better served through innovative use of information and communication technologies.

Pervasive high-speed connectivity is the catalyst of and foundation for the development of a smart city. It is this connectivity that will enable effective data collection and analytics to ensure continuous improvement along with the use of mobile technologies to reach every citizen in South Africa. In short, only once a comprehensive high-speed network is in place will our cities be in a position to address our unique challenges and become smart.

However, this is only the first step, since  the formation of a smart city requires a long-term urban plan. The reason for this becomes obvious when looking at the growth of the world’s urban population, which is set to increase from 54%  to 66% between 2014 and 2050.  South Africa’s major cities need to have a defined 20- to 40-year plan, coupled with a long-term vision to accommodate this projected expansion.

Obstacles on the path

A number of other challenges still stand in the way of smart cities becoming a reality in South Africa. Along with underdeveloped infrastructure, an even more troubling obstacle is the skills deficit. This is a particularly vexing hindrance to the advancement of smart cities nationally, requiring well-trained, tech-savvy individuals who understand and can use IT systems when under pressure. Unfortunately, this development of human capital does not happen overnight.

Looking ahead

Recently, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) launched the first global online community to encourage the development of smart sustainable cities. The aim of the portal is to assemble a community of experts to explore the factors that drive and impede the progression of global smart city development.

The evolving South African citizen of the future will be highly knowledgeable and more tech-savvy than ever before. They will expect enhanced, highly personalised service from cities and will move between cities to get what they want.

Cities, in effect, will become competitors for the top talent that, in turn, attracts businesses. To satisfy this new breed of citizen and so expand their tax bases, South African cities will have to see them as customers. This will require our cities to evolve considerably as they struggle to meet a new set of needs and to improve the quality of inhabitants’ lives.

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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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