The smart city concept is growing more as connected technologies emerge. Among other ideas, the term allows municipalities to measure and manage services in real-time. But, is South Africa ready to become smart, asks PAUL DIVALL of the Jasco Group.
The concept of the ‘smart city’ is growing in popularity as more and more connected technologies emerge. The term has many definitions, however, at its most basic level, a smart city is one in which the municipal authority is able to properly measure and manage the various services they are delivering within their environment, in real time, and with a high level of accuracy. Utilising technology such as smart metering for electricity and water, for example, can help to facilitate this and enable the beginnings of a smart city. As municipalities all over the world examine how they can apply such solutions, the question remains, is South Africa ready for smart cities? While technology forms an integral component of the smart city concept, it is the integration of the various technology components and solutions that deliver real value and transforms a city into a smart city. The corporate sector can play an instrumental role in assisting local Government to fast track these initiatives with their integration skills and expertise.
Smart cities have the potential to deliver multiple benefits, not only to municipalities but to citizens as well. Enhancing the efficiency and management of utilities such as electricity and water could translate into improved service delivery, which means that more citizens will be able to access basic services. However, economic challenges such as the ability of citizens to afford basic services can prove to be a significant barrier to the implementation of smart cities. Prepaid meters, the precursor to smart metering solutions, are an essential technology component which is already available in many areas, but must be implemented and integrated correctly in order to be effective.
Further to smart meters or other smart devices, the additional technology components required are a communication system to connect all of these devices to various applications in the cloud – in other words broadband connectivity. While this has proven to be a challenge in the past, the reality is that broadband is more readily available today in many locations, either through fibre or mobile offerings. The technology and infrastructure already exist for the implementation of the basics of smart cities in South Africa. Integrating the technologies is crucial for the success of this. However, integration requires specialist skills and expertise. Corporates and local Government must collaborate in order to achieve the integration that unpins smart city initiatives.
Municipalities must also demonstrate to citizens the benefits of improved service delivery through smart solutions. For example, a smart metering solution will allow municipalities to offer basic services at different rates to different population segments, for example those subsisting on a government pension can be given electricity at a reduced rate compares to a citizen living in a large house in a wealthy suburb. Municipalities will be able to differentiate tariffs across different economic groups depending on their ability to afford the service. For consumers, this also provides a greater level of transparency, as they will be able to see exactly what they are paying for which level of service.
For municipalities, smart solutions offer a number of benefits. Prepaid meters can vastly improve revenue collection, as they ensure citizens pay for their services up front rather than in arrears. This also enables municipalities to detect revenue leakage throughout the system – local governments can easily see how much electricity they are purchasing, how much is being used, and how much is being paid for. The same can be done for water. In addition, smart technology can be extended to include things like flow meters, which will be able to detect physical leaks on the pipes.
Armed with the information provided by smart metering solutions, municipalities will also be able to conduct analytics to identify trends. Accurate data on service utilisation enables local governments to better plan for future demand and improve the delivery of basic services. Demand for electricity can be predicted ahead of time to minimise disruption, the need for water infrastructure upgrading can be proactively determined, transport services can be planned better and many more benefits can be accrued. This benefit is then passed down to the citizen in the form of more effective service delivery.
Smart cities are the future, and they offer numerous benefits for all parties concerned. However, ultimately it is a combination of integrating the many disparate solutions and creating a communication platform that will determine the success of any initiative. Corporates that have the necessary integration skills can assist greatly in successful smart city initiatives. In addition, without buy-in from the citizens, any venture will inevitably fail. The challenge in South Africa is not the technology, but finding the right way to implement it and integrate with the right partner and to ensure citizens realise and understand the benefits it provides.
* Paul Divall, Managing Director of Intelligent Technologies at the Jasco Group
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.