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Robots, from big screen to playroom

In the second of a series on consumer robots, ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK introduces characters that have leaped from the big screen to the playroom, where privacy has become the new watchword.

In days gone by, when children fell in love with a character on the big screen, they would clamour for the plush toy or vinyl doll. Now, robots are marching into the playroom to take over that role.

And not only for kids. Adults who have fallen for superheroes or Star Wars character are the biggest fans of the robot versions of these heroes and villains. That’s just as well, as the price tags don’t often match parents’ budgets for their children’s gifts.

Our top character robot of the year is a case in point:

First Order Stormtrooper Robot

Storm trooper

The state of the art in toy robots does not come cheap. The Star Wars First Order Stormtrooper Robot from UBTech retails for R6499. But the price must be balanced with that phrase: “state of the art”.

This is what the Stormtrooper Robot does, according to local distributor Gammatek:

  • First and Third Person Augmented Reality App Modes: “Protect the First Order against the Resistance in your own room, issuing direct verbal orders, and launch attacks via the app interface in first and third person views for immersive interactive app play.”
  • Voice Commands: “Speak directly to your Stormtrooper to interact in new ways.”
  • Sentry Patrolling: “Order your Stormtrooper to patrol the designated area to detect and respond to intruders.”
  • Connect via secured WiFi on an encrypted platform: Platform encrypted … and no data or personal information is saved to the robot or the companion app.”

The last feature addresses a privacy issue that is currently in the spotlight. Two years ago, it was found that Mattell’s interactive “Hello Barbie” doll, which listened to a child and responded via voice, could be hacked to turn it into a surveillance tool without the child or parents knowing.

This year, Germany banned a similar doll, called “My Friend Cayla”, which boasted concealed microphones and cameras. The Federal Network Agency, the German regulator,  went as far as calling it a “de facto spying device”, saying the ban was intended “to protect the most vulnerable in our society”.

The Stormtrooper Robot was designed with this concern in mind, hence the startling decision not to connect it to the Internet, and to encrypt information on its app.

It is all the more surprising, then, that its features include facial recognition.
It can memorise up to three faces, and is geared towards members of a family storing their faces in the robot. This means it will later later automatically recognise the faces through facial biometrics, which will in turn activate interactions specific to each family member.

  • Stormtrooper will be available across South Africa at Hamleys, hi, Incredible Connection, iStore, ShopandShip, takealot.com and Toys R Us. For more information on the robot, visit ubtrobot.starwarsrobots.com

Spider-Man, by Sphero

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Like the Stormtrooper, the Spider-Man robot is also interactive, with voice recognition, along with a vast library of missions, jokes and banter.

However, its creator, Sphero, has taken a different approach to UBTech. Rather than lock down all outside access, it has built cutting edge security into the robot. It conducts a thorough security review of all products and apps, and uses third parties to test for weaknesses across apps, devices, and web services.

It also claims that it periodically reviews data it collects to make sure it is “only collecting what is necessary for your play experience”. While this very capability may set alarm bells ringing, Sphero is adamant it has strong policies for data storage, and data is encrypted both in transit and at rest.

With minds thus set at rest, the app for the robot is the entry point to numerous adventures, where every decision made by the player creates a new path forward, so that each game follows a unique journey that continually evolves.

Thanks to being Wi-Fi enabled, Spider-Man allows the player to download new missions, stories and other content. This, in turn, refreshes the banter that Spidey strikes up with its owner – including the friendly neighborhood hero’s signature cheeky wit.

Strictly speaking, Spider-Man is not a robot, as he doesn’t move, but he has as much artificial intelligence built in as most of his moving counterparts. Animated LCD eyes and motion detection make him both expressive and perceptive. He reacts to people passing, and can even guard a room: motion detection makes him an ally, giving him the semi-superpower of alerting his owner to intruders.

R2-D2 App-Enabled Droid

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Going back to Star Wars, here finally is the droid you’re looking for: the most famous astromech in this or any galaxy, R2-D2. He is a worthy successor to the coolest toy of 2016, the BB-8 remote controlled robot, still delighting kids and adults and scaring pets the world over.

R2-D2 is a little more refined, and can be controlled from an app on a smartphone or set to patrol an area independently. It can adapt from bipod to tripod stances, and can interact with other Star Wars droids from Sphero. One of its most intriguing features, holographic simulation, allows one to explore the Star Wars universe in a novel way.

The most unusual feature must be Watch With Me, which invites one to watch Star Wars movies with R2-D2 – but mostly to watch how he reacts to the movies. This feature is also available for BB-8 and the new BB-9E droids from Sphero.

Finally, R2-D2 wouldn’t be himself without his beeps, boops and flashing lights. These are all brought to robot life with front and rear LED lights and a speaker.

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee and on YouTube.

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How to create an esports team

2018 was a landmark year for South African esports as one of the country’s best teams took the battle overseas and made waves in the international scene. A year ago Bravado’s top Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) team relocated to Arizona in the U.S., a venture dubbed Project Destiny, where they used the opportunity to train as full-time professional athletes and conquer the best teams out there.

Project Destiny was a massive success. A year later and Bravado’s CS:GO team had carved a name for itself through several high-profile victories and invitations to top tier tournaments. Clearly this is not the end of the story and the team has been reflecting on the lessons and opportunities.

Team captain Dimitri “Detrony” Hadjipaschali helped lead Project Destiny and gleaned a considerable amount on what needs to go into an esports team.

Team for the right reasons

For aspirant pro players who want to up their game, pun intended, he advises starting at the basics: why do you want a team?

“In recent times, people want to create a team with no direct intention, not knowing if they want to do this casually and socially, or professionally. Doing this professionally requires risk. It depends on how much work and sacrifices are contributed to the cause of creating a team. Playing socially is fine, part-time, as many people do, but playing professionally and wanting to reach the top one day, purely depends on your dedication, motivation and intention.”

Put in the hours

Like any aspirant pro athlete, preparation requires hours of training. Bravado’s players all put in several hours of training daily, 7 days a week, and Project Destiny’s full-time pros worked multiple training sessions every day, usually in the morning and afternoon for 4 hours each, as well as competitive matches in the late evening.

But even Bravado members who are not full time still put in hours of training every day. Serious players need to find the time and build up their dedication because this level of performance is simply the bar set in esports. Said Dimitri:

“The general esports title or game a team competes in will require anything, if not more than, a traditional sport outside of esports would require to get to the top.”

Fortunately, you don’t have to go all-out from the start. Esports are tiered with the top players in the highest tiers. So there is space to cut your esporting teeth while making room for it in your life. But never forget that to be one of the best means no half-measures. In esports, you have to commit to win.

Share goals

“A good team player is an individual who views his team as a single unit and not just himself as an ‘individual player’ in the bigger picture,” said Dimitri. “They put their team first and before themselves. This is the first main fundamental of a mindset required for a team player.”

Pro teams shouldn’t be mistaken for gaming clans, which are more casual and where gaming is a hobby. Even though they can be very competitive, clans mostly play for fun and entertainment, whereas a professional team is highly competitive with goals that it sets out to accomplish.

This is important because it helps the team members agree on the importance of those goals and the focus required. If you are not willing to show up every day to play the same game, partake in training exercises and learn from feedback, a pro career won’t work for you:

“Playing professionally requires aligned individuals where they share common goals and have equal intentions to realize what they want to achieve and what it takes to compete at a high level.”

Be patient

Professional athletes aren’t created overnight. It takes many years of focus and dedication while also pursuing studies or working at a day job before someone manages to ascend into a paid career. Esports is the same and demands patience alongside dedication.

Esports teams amplify this requirement. While in Arizona, Bravado applied the maxim “Teams who work together win together.” Household chores were divided up between players, creating a sense of common responsibility. This repetitive reinforcement of team values is crucial for success, whereas impatience for a team to ‘click’ is a recipe for disaster:

“Often, teams do not achieve their desired results and achievements in the short run and immediately resort to a roster change. Or someone in the team is replaced without a completely valid reason. This underestimates the importance of sticking together to create synergy in the long run.”

He also added that using time smartly is perhaps even more important than the amount of time spent on training. The team under Project Destiny used a full-time coach who helped set routines, objectives and priorities:

“The mistake with teams struggling to improve these days is that they do not know and understand how to work with limited time, and how to do this best and constructively as possible. Often teams that aren’t at a top competitive level yet arrange bootcamps, but set the limited time they have with each other incorrectly, or rather not to the best potential.”

When Bravado embarked on Project Destiny, it aimed to put South African esports on the map and serve as role models for aspirant players in the country. By those measures, it has been a huge success and Bravado continues to grow and educate. Through the ongoing support of sponsors Alienware and Intel, Bravado continues its mission of creating esporting excellence and opportunity for South Africans.

Learn more at bravadogaming.com or contact Bravado’s players directly via their social media accounts.

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Opera reveals SA browsing habits

Opera, one of the world’s major browser developers, and leader in AI driven digital content delivery and discovery, has released its State of Mobile Web 2019 report, revealing that nine out of ten people in South Africa use their mobile browser every day.

Other Key findings from the report include:

  • Internet users in Africa use their browser to access social media domains such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Instagram, followed by entertainment and search websites
  • Opera News users in Africa spend 50% of in-app time watching videos
  • South Africans pay six times more per gigabyte of mobile data than people in India
  • Opera Mini saved users nearly 100 million USD in mobile data in 2018

The report reveals that the Opera mobile browsers and standalone news app were used by nearly 20 million internet users in Africa and by more than 350 million people globally in the first quarter of 2019. The State of Mobile Web 2019 report also shows that Opera experienced a growth of more than 26 percent of its user base year on year, compared to the first quarter of 2018 in Africa.

“We are thrilled to see that our mobile browsers and news app have grown by 25 million monthly users in the last year, ” said Jørgen Arnesen, Head of Marketing and Distribution at Opera. “The new Opera News app has led this positive growth, as well as the introduction of new features to our mobile browsers like built-in VPN and crypto wallet. The successful partnerships Opera has with major smartphone manufacturers in Africa have also contributed to this massive growth”.

The 2019 edition of the State of the Mobile Web report looked into the use of the Opera Mini browser and the Opera browser for Android, and it shows that mobile browsing is one of the most popular online activities among African internet users. For example, in South Africa, nine out of ten people use their mobile browser every day, an activity they prefer over the use of other applications like YouTube.

The report also revealed that on average, Africans using Opera spend more than 30 minutes browsing online each day. The most browsed category of websites was social media platform domains such as Facebook, YouTube and Instagram, followed by search engines like Google, and entertainment and sport websites.

100 million dollars  saved on mobile data

In the State of the Mobile Web 2019 report, Opera gives detailed insight into the use of the data savings feature in the Opera Mini browser, and compares the average price of mobile data in 20 countries in Africa. The results revealed that the data compression mode in Opera Mini saved users nearly 100 million USD of data in 2018.

In this analysis, Opera also compared the costs of data in some African countries with the cost of mobile data in India and Germany. The outcome of this analysis showed that South Africans pay six times more per gigabyte of mobile data than Indians and almost the same price as Germans for one gigabyte of mobile data.

Rapidly changing  news and video consumption landscape

The report takes a look at the trends of news and video consumption across Africa. This includes analyzing the usage of its standalone Opera News app, which grew from launch to over 20 million users in a period of one year. Categories like breaking news, local news, and entertainment were the favourites among users in the first quarter of the year.

Video content is also becoming more popular among people who use the Opera News app. The report shows that people spend 50 percent of in-app time inOpera News watching videos on Instaclips, the recently added video feature on the news app.

The usage of Instaclips keeps growing since its test launch in December 2018: in Q1-2019, Instaclips registered a total of 122,000 videos uploaded in different languages such as English, Portoguese, French, Arabic and Swahilli.

Expanding beyond browsing to fuel digital transformation

Opera’s commitment to digital transformation in Africa is ongoing. Beyond the development of its mobile browsers and standalone news app, Opera has made major investments on the African continent, expanding its services to other technology areas such as FinTech and digital advertising.

In 2018, Opera announced the launch of OKash, a fintech micro-lending solution that quickly gained traction among mobile internet users in Kenya. Today, OKash ranks among the most downloaded micro lending applications among Kenyans and its user base keeps on growing.

In May 2019,Opera announced the introduction of Opera Ads, a new advertising platform that allows media agencies and publishers to run more targeted marketing campaigns through the Opera platforms.

Available online

The full version of State of Mobile Web 2019 report is available to read online or for download by clicking here.

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