Consumerised hardware that supports open architectures is a growing component of the new software-defined everything concept. An example of this type of hardware is the Raspberry Pi, writes RUAN VENTER, Principal Consultant at Ovations.
The consumerisation of IT and more importantly IT infrastructure is a growing trend in an industry where the application is fast becoming king. In short CIOs need infrastructure that supports open standards, is flexible enough to slot into a growing digital and cloud based architecture, and that won’t break the bank while still delivering on his innovation mandate.
At Ovations we are constantly looking for new ways in which we can meet the needs of the customer, yet can still foster an environment for innovation and development. It is with this that we have started looking at the possible use of the Raspberry Pi computer as a device that answers the call for consumerised hardware that can provide a platform for the rapid deployment of new applications in an enterprise while ensuring it stays affordable and cheap to deploy in any environment.
What is Raspberry Pi?
In short the Raspberry Pi is, according to the manufacturer “a low cost, credit-card sized PC that plugs into a computer monitor or TV, and uses a standard keyboard and mouse”. Initially a device that was designed to encourage the use of technology amongst children, the Raspberry Pi has evolved significantly.
Even though the main supported operating system is Raspbian you can install other operating systems such as Ubuntu MATE, Ubuntu Core, OSMC, RIS OS, Windows 10 IoT and much more.
As the Pi is capable of performing all the tasks a normal desktop computer does, from browsing the Internet, to creating and disseminating business documents, its use can be far more pervasive than just an educational tool.
The device was designed to be low cost, and keeping costs low is a major driving point for the manufacturer. It’s the perfect entry level device for companies looking to leverage full computing power in a more streamlined and cost affordable way.
As an example, if you were to couple the device with beacon technology you could create an alerts driven environment – that through communicating to each other can set off a series of events. Think about this in a manufacturing or supply chain environment where beacons alert devices of tasks completed and through a daisy chain effect, the devices then start the next set of processes in logistics or production environment. It’s the true concept of automation.
Or let’s take a bank as an example. On arrival your device is picked up on entry into the environment and your query is solved by the time you reach the counter. Another example is home automation, linking your Pi to an intelligent home environment will allow you to define when geysers, heating, air-conditioning, and even lights are turned on or off – here the potential resource savings aspects are endless.
Not thinking big enough? What about snapping security pictures on entry into a building, hooking it into a PLC for the remote management of plants, making use of it as a card swiping or POS mechanism in a retail environment, or using it in mines to track and trace equipment and even people?
Open to the core
The Raspberry Pi presents a unique opportunity for businesses for a simple reason. It is open. And when they say it is open it really is. It’s a developer’s dream to work with and as a result a myriad applications can be built for the system using Python languages or a host of other freely available coding languages.
If we take into account that the next wave of computing – cloud computing – is upon us and this is opening the doors to technology concepts such as the Internet of Things (IoT) as well as fostering the growth of the digital business based on systems that are cloud native, the only limit when using the Raspberry Pi is your imagination – or the skills of your developers.
A business tool
Why should a business start looking at devices such as the Raspberry Pi? It is not just the Pi itself that we need to consider – it’s the entire opportunity it presents. Consumerised hardware that supports open architectures are most certainly a growing component of the new software-defined everything concept that is shaping IT today.
CIOs rely on their IT departments to not just keep the lights on, but also to innovate and position their businesses as competitive in this increasingly digital world. Think about the potential of hooking cost effective devices that you can write to, secure and communicate with, across multiple geographies at a lower cost than the current handhelds or tablets available today.
Suddenly the security risks of BYOD (Bring your own device) fly out the window as you remain in control, but the computing power needed by your users is still provided to them. Bear in mind that they recently sent a Raspberry Pi into space, even built an underwater Drone to take photos using one.
Smart home arrives in SA
The smart home is no longer a distant vision confined to advanced economies, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.
The smart home is a wonderful vision for controlling every aspect of one’s living environment via remote control, apps and sensors. But, because it is both complex and expensive, there has been little appetite for it in South Africa.
The two main routes for smart home installation are both fraught with peril – financial and technical.
The first is to call on a specialist installation company. Surprisingly, there are many in South Africa. Google “smart home” +”South Africa”, and thousands of results appear. The problem is that, because the industry is so new, few have built up solid track records and reputations. Costs vary wildly, few standards exist, and the cost of after-sales service will turn out to be more important than the upfront price.
The second route is to assemble the components of a smart home, and attempt self-installation. For the non-technical, this is often a non-starter. Not only does one need a fairly good knowledge of Wi-Fi configuration, but also a broad understanding of the Internet of Things (IoT) – the ability for devices to sense their environment, connect to each other, and share information.
The good news, though, is that it is getting easier and more cost effective all the time.
My first efforts in this direction started a few years ago with finding smart plugs on Amazon.com. These are power adaptors that turn regular sockets into “smart sockets” by adding Wi-Fi and an on-off switch, among other. A smart lightbulb was sourced from Gearbest in China. At the time, these were the cheapest and most basic elements for a starter smart home environment.
Via a smartphone app, the light could be switched on from the other side of the world. It sounds trivial and silly, but on such basic functions the future is slowly built.
Fast forward a year or two, and these components are available from hundreds of outlets, they have plummeted in cost, and the range of options is bewildering. That, of course, makes the quest even more bewildering. Who can be trusted for quality, fulfilment and after-sales support? Which products will be obsolete in the next year or two as technology advances even more rapidly?
These are some of the challenges that a leading South African technology distributor, Syntech, decided to address in adding smart home products to its portfolio. It selected LifeSmart, a global brand with proven expertise in both IoT and smart home products.
Equally significantly, LifeSmart combines IoT with artificial intelligence and machine learning, meaning that the devices “learn” the best ways of connecting, sharing and integrating new elements. Because they all fall under the same brand, they are designed to integrate with the LifeSmart app, which is available for Android and iOS phones, as well as Android TV.
Click here to read about how LifeSmart makes installing smart home devices easier.
Matrics must prepare for AI
By Vian Chinner, CEO and founder of Xineoh.
Many in the matric class of 2018 are currently weighing up their options for the future. With the country’s high unemployment rate casting a shadow on their opportunities, these future jobseekers have been encouraged to look into which skills are required by the market, tailoring their occupational training to align with demand and thereby improving their chances of finding a job, writes Vian Chinner – a South African innovator, data scientist and CEO of the machine learning company specialising in consumer behaviour prediction, Xineoh.
With rapid innovation and development in the field of artificial intelligence (AI), all careers – including high-demand professions like engineers, teachers and electricians – will look significantly different in the years to come.
Notably, the third wave of internet connectivity, whereby our physical world begins to merge with that of the internet, is upon us. This is evident in how widespread AI is being implemented across industries as well as in our homes with the use of automation solutions and bots like Siri, Google Assistant, Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana. So much data is collected from the physical world every day and AI makes sense of it all.
Not only do new industries related to technology like AI open new career paths, such as those specialising in data science, but it will also modify those which already exist.
So, what should matriculants be considering when deciding what route to take?
For highly academic individuals, who are exceptionally strong in mathematics, data science is definitely the way to go. There is, and will continue to be, massive demand internationally as well as locally, with Element-AI noting that there are only between 0 and 100 data scientists in South Africa, with the true number being closer to 0.
In terms of getting a foot in the door to become a successful data scientist, practical experience, working with an AI-focused business, is essential. Students should consider getting an internship while they are studying or going straight into an internship, learning on the job and taking specialist online courses from institutions like Stanford University and MIT as they go.
This career path is, however, limited to the highly academic and mathematically gifted, but the technology is inevitably going to overlap with all other professions and so, those who are looking to begin their careers should take note of which skills will be in demand in future, versus which will be made redundant by AI.
In the next few years, technicians who are able to install and maintain new technology will be highly sought after. On the other hand, many entry level jobs will likely be taken care of by AI – from the slicing and dicing currently done by assistant chefs, to the laying of bricks by labourers in the building sector.
As a rule, students should be looking at the skills required for the job one step up from an entry level position and working towards developing these. Those training to be journalists, for instance, should work towards the skill level of an editor and a bookkeeping trainee, the role of financial consultant.
This also means that new workforce entrants should be prepared to walk into a more demanding role, with more responsibility, than perhaps previously anticipated and that the country’s education and training system should adapt to the shift in required skills.
The matric classes of 2018 have completed their schooling in the information age and we should be equipping them, and future generations, for the future market – AI is central to this.