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Robots are not new!

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Even though robots have become more sophisticated and popular in recent times, JENNI PALOCSIK says that they are not new, citing the use of them as far back as 400 B.C.

Robots seem to be everywhere these days—on the big screen in popular science fiction movies, in books and in toy stores, and also in a real way improving our workplaces and other aspects of our daily lives.

Primitive robots were machines designed to automatically perform a specific task. Around 3,000 B.C., Egyptian water clocks used human figures to strike bells on the hour. Another inventor, Archytas of Tarentum, was reported to have created a wooden pigeon that could fly in 400 B.C.

Robots have become significantly more sophisticated in modern times.

The first industrial robot was introduced in 1961 by General Motors in an automobile factory. Since then, many manufacturing industries have designed robots to do work that is too dangerous for humans or that can be done more quickly and consistently by machines.

Today, robots have evolved beyond physical motors and mechanical arms and manipulators to include software robots that can assist consumers and employees, helping them to do more tasks more easily. These robots can perform pre-programmed tasks or even leverage artificial intelligence to help them think and learn.

It’s a way to combine the convenience of automation with the work of today using computers and software programs. Here are some examples:

  • Virtual agents, virtual assistants and chat bots: These non-human software programs “live” on websites or within mobile apps, leveraging interactive, context-aware knowledge bases to answer questions from humans. Virtual agents are often used to extend and enhance self-service options for customers, answering basic questions and helping people find additional information for a particular need. Often these functions are visually represented as an avatar to make them more “friendly” and to reinforce the company’s brand identity.
  • Desktop automation: This software automates tasks to help improve employee productivity, completing steps more quickly and performing data reentry across systems. Some versions of the software can also help guide employees through tasks, displaying dialogue boxes providing instructions, presenting scripts to be read to customers and other important information.
  • Robotic process automation: This software completes end-to-end processes or tasks within longer processes that don’t need to be performed by a human employee. Typically these are high volume, repetitive tasks involving data entry or re-entry across systems based on specific decision criteria and logic.

Why robots? Because just as we continue to invent cool new gadgets and technology that make our lives easier, better or more fun, software robots can be used to handle work previously done by humans to help us get it done faster, less expensively, and more consistently and accurately.

This applies to customer service chat bots, desktop automation and robotic process automation. And, there’s an even bigger benefit in most cases—human employees can shift from the more boring and repetitive tasks to more value-added customer-facing work, continuing to learn new skills as the knowledge workers of the future.

* Jenni Palocsik, Director Solutions Marketing, Verint

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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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