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Six of the Best at CES 2020

Last week’s CES tech expo in Las Vegas delivered on its promise of being the world’s premier launchpad of new gadgets, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK



There is any number of reasons CES in Las Vegas is renowned as the world’s biggest launchpad for new gadgets. Previously known as the Consumer Electronics Show, it has for 52 years been the showcase for technology products that are about to be unleashed on the market. In recent years, it has also become the prime location for unveiling new automotive technology, as vehicle manufacturers have woken up to the high profile the show gives to high-tech. It is no surprise then, that a car made the biggest impact of all the launches at CES this year.

This is our pick of the top 6 launches at last week’s CES:

Transport: Hyundai Personal Air Vehicle

The Personal Air Vehicle (PAV) model S-A1, which looks like the offspring of a marriage between a drone and a light aircraft, is in fact a flying car. It was developed by Hyundai Motor Company and Uber Elevate, a division of the Uber ride-sharing company developing shared air transportation. The PAV is a 4-passenger electric vehicle designed to take off and land vertically, and cruise at up to 290 km/h, 600 metres above ground, with a 100km range. Initially, it will have a pilot, but will eventually be autonomous. Elevate is collaborating with seven aircraft manufacturers, with Hyundai the first automotive company to join the initiative. It is scheduled for takeoff in 2023, which means it is a rare example of a concept vehicle launched at CES that has a real-world launch date in mind.

TV: Samsung Sero TV

LG stole the show with a roll-down TV that hides in the ceiling when not in use, a follow-up to its roll-up TV from CES 2019. But with the latter expected to cost $60,000, one can’t call it a consumer favourite. There is no pricing available yet for Samsung’s answer, the  Sero, but it certainly has the consumer in mind. It is described as a “versatile lifestyle TV”, and can be flipped 90 degrees to allow viewers to watch content created in vertical formats. TikTok or Snapchat, anyone?

Robotics: Sarcos Guardian XO

Robots were big at CES this year, but most were designed as cute companions or to spare us from routine tasks like feeding pets. Big deal! The real big deal in robots was truly big, but the Guardian XO is not exactly a machine to be controlled from a distance. Instead, it is a robot one can wear. It is a battery-powered, full-body “exoskeleton”, designed to boost human performance and help prevent injury while lifting heavy objects. By bearing the weight of the suit and the payload, the exoskeleton can enable an employee to lift up to 90kg repeatedly for up to eight hours at a time without strain or fatigue. The first likely customer? Not the military, but Delta Air Lines – which is exploring the technology for its employees. 

Read more on the next page about the new Impossible meat, a portable medical diagnostic device, and wireless charging from up to 10 meters away.

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SA’s Internet goes down again

South Africa is about to experience a small repeat of the lower speeds and loss of Internet connectivity suffered in January, thanks to a new undersea cable break, writes BRYAN TURNER



Internet service provider Afrihost has notified customers that there are major outages across all South African Internet Service Providers (ISPs), as a result of a break in the WACS undersea cable between Portugal and England 

The cause of the cable break along the cable is unclear. it marks the second major breakage event along the West African Internet sea cables this year, and comes at the worst possible time: as South Africans grow heavily dependent on their Internet connections during the COVID-19 lockdown. 

As a result of the break, the use of international websites and services, which include VPNs (virtual private networks), may result in latency – decreased speeds and response times.  

WACS runs from Yzerfontein in the Western Cape, up the West Coast of Africa, and terminates in the United Kingdom. It makes a stop in Portugal before it reaches the UK, and the breakage is reportedly somewhere between these two countries. 

The cable is owned in portions by several companies, and the portion where the breakage has occurred belongs to Tata Communications. 

The alternate routes are:  

  • SAT3, which runs from Melkbosstrand also in the Western Cape, up the West Coast and terminates in Portugal and Spain. This cable runs nearly parallel to WACS and has less Internet capacity than WACS. 
  • ACE (Africa Coast to Europe), which also runs up the West Coast.  
  • The SEACOM cable runs from South Africa, up the East Coast of Africa, terminating in both London and Dubai.  
  • The EASSy cable also runs from South Africa, up the East Coast, terminating in Sudan, from where it connects to other cables. 

The routes most ISPs in South Africa use are WACS and SAT3, due to cost reasons. 

The impact will not be as severe as in January, though. All international traffic is being redirected via alternative cable routes. This may be a viable method for connecting users to the Internet but might not be suitable for latency-sensitive applications like International video conferencing. 

Read more about the first Internet connectivity breakage which happened on the same cable, earlier this year. 

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SA cellphones to be tracked to fight coronavirus

Several countries are tracking cellphones to understand who may have been exposed to coronavirus-infected people. South Africa is about to follow suit, writes BRYAN TURNER



From Israel to South Korea, governments and cell networks have been implementing measures to trace the cellphones of coronavirus-infected citizens, and who they’ve been around. The mechanisms countries have used have varied.  

In Iran, citizens were encouraged to download an app that claimed to diagnose COVID-19 with a series of yes or no questions. The app also tracked real-time location with a very high level of accuracy, provided by the GPS sensor. 

In Germany, all cellphones on Deutsche Telekom are being tracked through cell tower connections, providing a much coarser location, but a less invasive method of tracking. The data is being handled by the Robert Koch Institute, the German version of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

In Taiwan, those quarantined at home are tracked via an “electronic fence”, which determines if users leave their homes.  

In South Africa, preparations have started to track cellphones based on cell tower connections. The choice of this method is understandable, as many South Africans may either feel an app is too intrusive to have installed, or may not have the data to install the app. This method also allows more cellphones, including basic feature phones, to be tracked. 

This means that users can be tracked on a fairly anonymised basis, because these locations can be accurate to about 2 square kilometers. Clearly, this method of tracking is not meant to monitor individual movements, but rather gain a sense of who’s been around which general area.  

This data could be used to find lockdown violators, if one considers that a phone connecting in Hillbrow for the first 11 days of lockdown, and then connecting in Morningside for the next 5, likely indicates a person has moved for an extended period of time. 

The distance between Hillbrow and Morningside is 17km. One would pass through several zones covered by different towers.

Communications minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams said that South African network providers have agreed to provide government with location data to help fight COVID-19. 

Details on how the data will be used, and what it will used to determine, are still unclear. 

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