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SA semi-finalists in equal innovation challenge

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Two South African entries have made it to the last 5 of a global innovation challenge aimed at expanding affordable Internet access.

Two South African entrants, as well as an ex-South African, have made it to the semi-finals of the  Equal Rating Innovation Challenge, launched by Mozilla in October 2016.

Mozilla called on entrepreneurs, designers, researchers, and innovators all over the world to propose novel and scalable solutions to provide affordable access to the full diversity of the open Internet.

“Reflecting the truly global character of this challenge, we received over 100 submission from 27 countries around the world,” the organisation said this week. “Five teams made it to the semi-final and they have been receiving expert mentorship to hone their projects.”

The teams included two from South Africa, as well as a former South African-based Internet activist, indicating a massive passion among South Africans to bring Internet access to all.

The South African finalists are Tim Genders of Afri-Fi Free Public WiFi and Carlos Rey-Moreno of Zenzeleni “Do it for yourselves” Networks. They are joined by Steve Song, now living in Canada, but well-known among South Africans for his work here, representing Freemium Mobile Internet.

The semi-finalists will pitch their ideas at an event to be live-streamed on equalrating.com on 9 March from 9am to 6.30pm. Mozilla will convene leaders in industry, government, NGOs, and advocacy at the Equal Rating Conference to discuss and debate the current state of global affordable Internet access.

Speakers include

  • Mitchell Baker Executive – Chairwoman, Mozilla Foundation
  • Katharina Borchert – Chief Innovation Officer, Mozilla Corporation
  • Rocio Fonseca – Executive Director, Start-Up Chile
  • Gary Fowlie – Head, ITU Liaison Office to the United Nations
  • Jeremy Balkin – Head of Innovation, HSBC
  • Omobola Johnson – Former Minister of Communication Technology, Nigeria
  • Nikhil Pahwa – Co-founder, savetheinternet.in
  • Marlon Parker – Founder, Reconstructed Living Labs

Following morning sessions of keynotes and lighting talks, a key part of the program will be the “Demo Day”: Mozilla has invited the semifinalist teams from South Africa, Brazil, Canada and India to come to New York and live-pitch their advanced solutions to an expert panel of judges.

Demo Day: Semifinalist pitches

  • Tim Genders (South Africa) presents Afri-Fi: Free Public WiFi
  • Carlos Rey-Moreno (South Africa) presents Zenzeleni “Do it for yourselves” Networks (ZN)
  • Steve Song (Canada) presents Freemium Mobile Internet (FMI)
  • Bruno Vianna (Brazil) presents Free Networks P2P Cooperative
  • Dr Sarbani Banerjee Belur (India) presents Gram Marg Solution for Rural Broadband

This event will not only be an opportunity to gather different perspectives from research, policy, advocacy and venture capital on universal Internet access. It will also be a chance to get to know the semifinalist teams, hear their story, learn from their local expertise and get caught by their motivation to help and improve the conditions of their communities.

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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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