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The big tech wish list for 2016

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The world of technology is set for big changes in 2016, but perhaps not the ones we want, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK, as he contrast his wish list with reality.

1. Decent battery life

Battery life. It’s not much to ask for, is it? If my Nokia 6310i could last a week in 2003, why can’t my smartphones last even one full day in 2016? With luck, the big names in smartphones will master the arts of enhanced battery life as well as more efficient use of resources on handsets, but don’t count on it in 2016.

The good news is that Samsung Ventures has invested heavily in a company called Storedot, which is developing a battery that will charge fully in one minute, and last somewhat longer than current versions. But that is still a year or two from the production lines.

The very fact that a decent smartphone battery remains so elusive puts it at number one on the wishlist for 2016. Rival manufacturers may well spring a pleasant surprise on the market, so keep the checkbox open for this year.

2. Screen protectors as standard

There are few things more irritating in the smartphone world than new handsets with gorgeous screens that are scratched within days of being removed from the box. Simply because the phone didn’t come with a cover or a screen protector, and you haven’t had a chance to pick one up at a store, chances are high that it is not going to remain in pristine condition. Gorilla Glass was supposed to solve that problem, but you don’t hear that being punted as heavily among the specs these days as when it first appeared on phones, do you?

3. More reality in Virtual Reality

If you’ve had the privilege of playing with virtual reality (VR) headsets, you’ll know that they provide a wonderfully immersive experience. But there’s still one major flaw: the graphics are never entirely convincing. Pixellation, images breaking up, and unconvincing human beings are just some of the consequences. The result is that, while VR has evolved from massive cockpit-like machines to sleek headsets, the quality of the virtual environment has improved marginally. But with so much investment going into VR right now, and big promises from Samsung, HTC and Facebook-owned Oculus Rift, we can expect the next generation of headsets to start matching up to TV-like quality.

4. Big data to fix small problems

You’d think the likes of banks, telecommunications companies and government departments would have invested a little of their large technology budgets on making their mountains of customer data work for their own benefit as well as that of customers. All we really want – for now – are two things: that they show some evidence that they are able to use big data to avoid small irritations, like requiring us to submit all personal data all over again every time we apply for a new service, account or document; and that they reward us appropriately for remaining loyal customers for however many years, rands or services. Effective use of big data goes far beyond this of course, and should be saving time and money. Every tiny benefit applied regularly eventually takes on massive scale, but must start with the small efficiencies.

5. Wireless broadband that really is broad

Consumers can be forgiven for thinking wireless broadband is a con. And that is even without the debate about whether something called LTE can be marketed as something called 4G. Even 3G in some variants, like HSPA, should run at speeds of up to 21Mbps, but that is a pipe dream for mobile data users. The great wish for 2016 is that 3G really does become pervasive and consistent, and that LTE spectrum is speedily licensed in South Africa, so that we can discover true 4G.

6. Vehicle technology that feels like the future

Every year the motor manufacturers line up at CES in Las Vegas and Mobile World Congress in Barcelona to show off the latest vehicle technology that justifies cars become high-tech choices. Then we go to the local showroom to check out the latest cars coming off the assembly lines, only to find the technology feels like something we already had on our smartphones five years ago. The problem is that five years happens to be how far ahead manufacturers have to plan their new vehicles. It means there is a cut-off point for inclusion of the latest technology as it exists now rather than in a few years when the vehicle reaches the sales floor. The challenge, and the final item on my 2016 wish list, is for vehicle manufacturers to create a more open hardware platform in the vehicle itself to accommodate the latest communications, mapping and entertainment technology as it becomes available.

* Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

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Kenya tool to help companies prepare for emergencies

After its team members survived last week’s Nairobi terror attack, Ushahidi decided to release a new preparedness tool for free, writes its CEO, NAT MANNING

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On Tuesday I woke up a bit before 7am in Berkeley, California where I live. I made some coffee and went over to my computer to start my work day. I checked my Slack and the news and quickly found out that there was an ongoing terrorist attack at 14 Riverside Complex in Nairobi, Kenya. The Ushahidi office is in Nairobi and about a third of our team is based there (the rest of us are spread across 10 other countries).

As I read the news, my heart plummeted, and I immediately asked the question, “is everyone on my team okay?”

Five years ago Al-Shabaab committed a similar attack at the Westgate Mall. We spent several tense hours figuring out if any of our team had been in the mall, and verifying that everyone was safe. We found out that one of our team member’s family was caught up in the attack. Luckily they made it out.

At Ushahidi we make software for crisis response, including tools to map disasters and election violence, and yet we felt helpless in the face of this attack. In the days following the Westgate attack, our team huddled and thought about what we could build that would help our team — and other teams — if we found ourselves in a similar situation to this attack again. We identified that when we first learned of the attack, nearly everyone at Ushahidi had spent that first precious few hours trying to answer the basic questions, “Is everyone okay?”, and if not, “Who needs help?” 

People had ad-hoc used multiple channels such as WhatsApp, called, emailed, or texted. We had done this for each person at Ushahidi (their job), in our families, and important people in our community. Our process was unorganised, inefficient, repetitive, and frustrating.

And from this problem we created TenFour, a check in tool that makes it easier for teams to reach one another during times of crisis. It is a simple application that lets people send a message to their team via SMS, Slack, Voice, email, and in-app, and get a response. It also works for educational institutions, companies with distributed staff, as well as part of neighbourhood networks like neighbourhood watches.

This week when I woke up to the news of the attack at Riverside, I immediately opened up the TenFour app.

Click here to read how Nat quickly confirmed the safety of his team.

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Kia multi-collision airbags

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The world’s first multi-collision airbag system has been unveiled by Hyundai Motor Group subsidiary KIA Motors, with the aim of improving airbag performance in multi-collision accidents.

Multi-collision accidents are those in which the primary impact is followed by collisions with secondary objects, such as other vehicles, trees, or electrical posts, which occur in three out of every 10 accidents. Current airbag systems do not offer secondary protection when the initial impact is insufficient to cause them to deploy. 

However, the multi-collision airbag system allows airbags to deploy effectively upon a secondary impact, by calibrating the status of the vehicle and the occupants.

The new technology detects occupants’ positions in the cabin following an initial collision. When occupants are forced into unusual positions, the effectiveness of existing safety technology may be compromised. Multi-collision airbag systems are designed to deploy even faster when initial safety systems may not be effective, providing additional safety when drivers and passengers are most vulnerable. By recalibrating the collision intensity required for deployment, the airbag system responds more promptly during the secondary impact, thereby improving the safety of multi-collision vehicle occupants.

“By improving airbag performance in multi-collision scenarios, we expect to significantly improve the safety of our drivers and passengers,” said Taesoo Chi, head of the Hyundai Motor Group’s Chassis Technology Centre. “We will continue our research on more diverse crash situations as part of our commitment to producing even safer vehicles that protect occupants and prevent injuries.”

According to statistics by the National Automotive Sampling System Crashworthiness Data System (NASS-CDS), an office of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in USA, about 30% of 56,000 vehicle accidents from 2000 to 2012 in the North American region involved multi-collisions. The leading type of multi-collision accidents involved cars crossing over the centre line (30.8%), followed by collisions caused by a sudden stop at highway tollgates (13.5%), highway median strip collisions (8.0%), and sideswiping and collision with trees and electric poles (4.0%). 

These multi-collision scenarios were analysed in multilateral ways to improve airbag performance and precision in secondary collisions. Once commercialised, the system will be implemented in future new KIA vehicles. 

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