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SA entries make semi-finals of Mozilla challenge

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Mozilla has named two South African entrants in its selection of five semifinalists for its global Equal Rating Innovation Challenge.

South Africans Tim Human and Dr. Carlos Rey-Moreno, both residing in Cape Town, were two of the five semifinalist team leaders announced. Furthermore, Steve Song, a born South African who is now living in Canada, is among the final five.

Katharina Borchert, Mozilla’s Chief Innovation Officer, and Marlon Parker, Founder of Reconstructed Living Lab (RLabs) and part of the Challenge’s panel of judges, announced the semifinalists and discussed the trends that were seen across submissions at an event held at RLabs in Cape Town on 17 January.

“Not giving people access to information creates a socio-economic divide, not just a digital divide,” said Parker. “Every person on the planet needs to have hope, which is what the internet is for. It gives you information, it gives you a choice, it gives you an option. This is why I wanted to be a part of this Challenge and become a judge.”

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Mozilla’s judging panel evaluated the submissions against the criteria of compliance with Equal Rating, affordability and accessibility, empathy, technical feasibility, as well as scalability, user experience, differentiation, potential for quick deployment, and team potential.

Each team will receive 8 weeks of mentorship from experts within the Mozilla community, covering topics such as policy, business, engineering, and design. The mentorship is broad to better assist the teams in building out their proposed concepts.

The semi-finalists are:

Gram Marg Solution for Rural Broadband

  • Team Leader: Prof. Abhay Karandikar
  • Location: Mumbai, India
  • Open source low-cost hardware prototype utilizing Television White Spectrum to provide affordable access to rural communities.

Freemium Mobile Internet (FMI)

  • Team Leader: Steve Song
  • Location: Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, Canada
  • A new business model for telecommunication companies to provide free 2G to enable all the benefits of the open web to all.

Afri-Fi: Free Public WiFi

  • Team Leader: Tim Human
  • Location: Cape Town, South Africa
  • Model to make Project Isizwe financially sustainable by connecting brands to an untapped, national audience, specifically low-income communities who otherwise cannot afford connectivity.

Free Networks P2P Cooperative

  • Team Leader: Bruno Vianna
  • Location: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
  • Cooperative that enables communities to set-up networks to get access to the Internet and then supports itself through the cooperative fees, and while co-creating the knowledge and respecting the local cultures.

Zenzeleni “Do it for yourselves” Networks (ZN)

  • Team Leader: Dr Carlos Rey-Moreno
  • Location: Cape Town, South Africa
  • Bottom-up telecommunications co-operatives that allows the most disadvantaged rural areas of South Africa to self-provide affordable communications at a fraction of the cost offered by other operators.

While Mozilla will disclose further information about all of these teams and their projects in the coming weeks, some themes occurred in the overall submission process:

  • Cooperatives were a popular mechanism to grow buy-in and share responsibility and benefit across communities. This is in contrast to a more typical and transactional producer-consumer relationship.
  • Digital literacy was naturally integrated into solutions, but was rarely the lead idea. Instead it was the de facto addition. This signals that digital literacy in and of itself is not perceived as a full solution or service, but rather an essential part of enabling access to the Internet.
  • Many teams took into account the unbanked and undocumented in their solutions. There seemed to be a feeling that solutions for the people would come from the people, not governments or corporations.
  • There was a strong trend for service solutions to disintermediate traditional commercial relationships and directly connect buyers and sellers.
  • In media-centric solutions, the voice of the people was as important as authoritative sources. User generated content in the areas of local news was popular, as was enabling a distribution of voices to be heard.

What’s next

Following the mentorship period, on March 9th, Mozilla will host a day-long event in New York on the topic of affordable access and innovation where the semifinalists will present their concepts.

Following the presentations to the judges at this Demo Day, there will be a week of open voting on EqualRating.com to determine the winners of the Challenge which will be announced at RightsCon in Brussels on March 29th.

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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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