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SA winner in Tour de France

When South African-educated Chris Froome won his fourth Tour de France cycle race on Sunday, it was an indirect win for local fans. But South Africa will play a far more direct role as the technology behind the race is transformed in the coming years, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

When the Tour de France cycling saga ended in Paris on Sunday, more statistics, predictions and analysis had been shared than in any other cycle race in history. A mind-boggling mountain of information, comprising 3-billion data points, allowed fans, teams and the media to analyse the race in ways that were inconceivable just three years ago.

That’s when the race owners, Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO), called in South African company Dimension Data to help it prepare for the future of sports coverage and to meet the growing needs of fans.

“Cycling is trending at the moment all over the globe; people who used to have golf club roof racks now have cycle racks,” says Dimension Data senior marketing manager of Celine Rousseau. “Fans are expecting information for free, right here right now, and watching reruns the next day is not sufficient anymore.

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Media frenzy around Chris Froome, ultimate winner of the Tour de France 2017, before Stage 13.
Photo: By Arthur Goldstuck

“Fans expect to be able to interact with their favourite riders, and social meida allows them to do that. They are also more interested in the transcendent moment in the race, like a crash or something spectacular happening, rather than the overall race.

“ASO also realised that fans, whether in a stadium or at the side of the road, have become their own little media houses by taking their own short videos of a race and posting it on digital platforms, bypassing ASO’s platforms and not providing the opportunity to get online advertising revenue.”

 

Fans film every moment of the Tour, becoming competitors to broadcasters. Photo: By Arthur Goldstuck

Fans film every moment of the Tour, becoming competitors to broadcasters.
Photo: By Arthur Goldstuck

Dimension Data, now a subsidiary of Japan’s NTT but still referring to itself as a South African company, had less than six months from its first meetings with ASO to delivering a digital platform for the 2015 Tour de France.

It won its own race in style. That year, for the first time, fans were able to view live videos from GoPro devices fitted to bikes, graphics showing live race data, a live-tracking website, and new race data being shared on social media. Most dramatic of all, however, was the broadcast of live speed data on television for the first time in cycling history.

By 2016, video views on digital platforms had climbed to 55-million, from just 6-million two years before. Fast forward to 2017, and Dimension Data introduced complex algorithms that analysed historical and live data to calculate the likelihood of real-time race events. Clearly, this is more than just being the official technology partner of the Tour de France – already a startling achievement for a South African business.

“I have a long history with partners, but this one is very special because it is not only a partner but co-producing the future of digital cycling,” says Yann Le Moenner, CEO of ASO.

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Team Dimension Data’s bicycles lined up on front of the team bus before the start of Stage 13.
Photo: By Arthur Goldstuck

The route to that future presents almost as many obstacles as the Tour itself.

Right now, the technology that has already transformed the race comprises a cellphone-sized device fitted to every bike in the race – 198 in the 2017 edition. It includes a battery, GPS receiver and Radio Frequency ID (RFID) transmitter tha tramnsits the location of each bike every second. The information is overlaid on data about the historic performance of each rider – in the race itself and in previous races – along with wind speed and direction, and road gradient.

Initially, there was some concern among some teams that the technology would provide rival teams with too much data about each rider. However, the teams have all come to appreciate the extent to which it has enhanced their preparation for each stage of the race, as well as their ability to adjust tactics almost by the minute.

Now Dimension Data is hoping to go one step further.

“We know the speed, gradient, wind conditions, and size of groups, so we are able to use machine learning to calculate the effort index of each rider,” says Peter Gray, senior director of technology at Dimension Data Global Sports Practice.  “For example, an index of 1 means he is still having coffee at the start, and10 means his head is about to explode. Most of the time we see an average effort of 5 out of 10, when they are cruising, and towards end it starts to ramp up.

Team Dimension Data manager Doug Ryder on one of the bicycles the Qhubeka charity is donating to school children across Africa

Team Dimension Data manager Doug Ryder on one of the bicycles the Qhubeka charity is donating to school children across Africa.
Photo: By Arthur Goldstuck

“It’s something we’ve developed and are testing internally, and starting to bring on line and share as we’re allowed to. We’ve begun sharing predictions around breakaway and stage predictions.

“The thing is that you can’t tell if an effort index of 8.8 means a rider is in strife or fatigued, because we don’t have biometric information. If he’s in great shape he could maintain that for a long time, and it doesn’t give other teams a competitive advantage to know it, as it would if you had biometrics on the ride.”

Biometric measurement would require all riders to wear heart-rate monitors and the like – which most already do, but only for the benefit of their own teams.  Teams would resist sharing such data initially, but ultimately it will probably become a feature of the race.

Other possibilities for the future are virtual reality and rider point of view experiences of the race.

It’s been a long ride from the first Tour de France in 1903, when the only form of coverage was a single newspaper. In many ways, then, the event mirrors the evolution of both sports technology and the media. And South African innovation is at the very heart of that evolution.

 

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Veeam passes $1bn, prepares for cloud’s ‘Act II’

Leader in cloud-data management reveals how it will harness the next growth phase of the data revolution, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

Veeam Software, the quiet leader in backup solutions for cloud data management,has announced that it has passed $1-billion in revenues, and is preparing for the next phase of sustained growth in the sector.

Now, it is unveiling what it calls Act II, following five years of rapid growth through modernisation of the data centre. At the VeeamON 2019conferencein Miami this week, company co-founder Ratmir Timashev declared that the opportunities in this new era, focused on managing data for the hybrid cloud, would drive the next phase of growth.

“Veeam created the VMware backup market and has dominated it as the leader for the last decade,” said Timashev, who is also executive vice president for sales and marketing at the organisation. “This was Veeam’s Act I and I am delighted that we have surpassed the $1 billion mark; in 2013 I predicted we’d achieve this in less than six years. 

“However, the market is now changing. Backup is still critical, but customers are now building hybrid clouds with AWS, Azure, IBM and Google, and they need more than just backup. To succeed in this changing environment, Veeam has had to adapt. Veeam, with its 60,000-plus channel and service provider partners and the broadest ecosystem of technology partners, including Cisco, HPE, NetApp, Nutanix and Pure Storage, is best positioned to dominate the new cloud data management in our Act II.”

In South Africa, Veeam expects similar growth. Speaking at the Cisco Connect conference in Sun City this week, country manager Kate Mollett told Gadget’s BRYAN TURNER that the company was doing exceptionally well in this market.

“In financial year 2018, we saw double-digit growth, which was really very encouraging if you consider the state of the economy, and not so much customer sentiment, but customers have been more cautious with how they spend their money. We’ve seen a fluctuation in the currency, so we see customers pausing with big decisions and hoping for a recovery in the Rand-Dollar. But despite all of the negatives, we have double digit growth which is really good. We continue to grow our team and hire.

“From a Veeam perspective, last year we were responsible for Veeam Africa South, which consisted of South Africa, SADC countries, and the Indian Ocean Islands. We’ve now been given the responsibility for the whole of Africa. This is really fantastic because we are now able to drive a single strategy for Africa from South Africa.”

Veeam has been the leading provider of backup, recovery and replication solutions for more than a decade, and is growing rapidly at a time when other players in the backup market are struggling to innovate on demand.

“Backup is not sexy and they made a pretty successful company out of something that others seem to be screwing up,” said Roy Illsley, Distinguished Analyst at Ovum, speaking in Miami after the VeeamOn conference. “Others have not invested much in new products and they don’t solve key challenges that most organisations want solved. Theyre resting on their laurels and are stuck in the physical world of backup instead of embracing the cloud.”

Illsley readily buys into the Veeam tagline. “It just works”. 

“They are very good at marketing but are also a good engineering comany that does produce the goods. Their big strength, that it just works, is a reliable feature they have built into their product portfolio.”

Veeam said in statement from the event that, while it had initially focused on server virtualisation for VMware environments, in recent years it had expanded this core offering. It was now delivering integration with multiple hypervisors, physical servers and endpoints, along with public and software-as-a-service workloads, while partnering with leading cloud, storage, server, hyperconverged (HCI) and application vendors.

This week, it  announced a new “with Veeam”program, which brings in enterprise storage and hyperconverged (HCI) vendors to provide customers with comprehensive secondary storage solutions that combine Veeam software with industry-leading infrastructure systems. Companies like ExaGrid and Nutanix have already announced partnerships.

Timashev said: “From day one, we have focused on partnerships to deliver customer value. Working with our storage and cloud partners, we are delivering choice, flexibility and value to customers of all sizes.”

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‘Energy scavenging’ funded

As the drive towards a 5G future gathers momentum, the University of Surrey’s research into technology that could power countless internet enabled devices – including those needed for autonomous cars – has won over £1M from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and industry partners.

Surrey’s Advanced Technology Institute (ATI) has been working on triboelectric nanogenerators (TENG), an energy harvesting technology capable of ‘scavenging’ energy from movements such as human motion, machine vibration, wind and vehicle movements to power small electronic components. 

TENG energy harvesting is based on a combination of electrostatic charging and electrostatic induction, providing high output, peak efficiency and low-cost solutions for small scale electronic devices. It’s thought such devices will be vital for the smart sensors needed to enable driverless cars to work safely, wearable electronics, health sensors in ‘smart hospitals’ and robotics in ‘smart factories.’ 

The ATI will be partnered on this development project with the Georgia Institute of Technology, QinetiQ, MAS Holdings, National Physical Laboratory, Soochow University and Jaguar Land Rover. 

Professor Ravi Silva, Director of the ATI and the principal investigator of the TENG project, said: “TENG technology is ideal to power the next generation of electronic devices due to its small footprint and capacity to integrate into systems we use every day. Here at the ATI, we are constantly looking to develop such advanced technologies leading towards our quest to realise worldwide “free energy”.

“TENGs are an ideal candidate to power the autonomous electronic systems for Internet of Things applications and wearable electronic devices. We believe this research grant will allow us to further the design of optimized energy harvesters.”

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