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The next big change

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The world is about to change, yet again, and in ways few can imagine. South Africa won’t be immune, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

Self-driving cars, text by thinking, and sensors in your body warning you of medical issues before they happen are some of the bewildering advances in technology expected over the next ten years. 

Even countries that are not linked by umbilical cord to the innovation hubs of Silicon Valley, Tel Aviv and Shanghai will feel the impact. But many are woefully unprepared. 

In South Africa, banks, insurance companies and marketers are investing heavily in both their own innovations and in buying up start-ups that can help them catch up. Beyond those industries, however, it tends to be business as usual.

This is one of the reasons that an organisation called the Mobility Centre for Africa (MCA) has convened a conference this week to advance discussions around disruptive technologies affecting the transport industry, with the aim of predicting future scenarios for African cities.

Described as a platform for the research, testing and deployment of future smart mobility solutions, the MCA brings together the public sector, industry and academia. It seeks an integrated approach to the research and development of electric and autonomous vehicles. But, more importantly, it wants to prepare South Africa and Africa’s road and related infrastructure for legislative changes and infrastructure standards.

The MCA has held similar events in Durban, Johannesburg and Cape Town over the past six months. Its 4th Future Mobility Roundtable is being hosted by the City of Ekurhuleni, one of the few metros in Africa that has developed a truly long-term vision – stretching out all the way to 2055. The event focuses on predicting future scenarios in line with this vision. Drones, artificial intelligence, smart cities, electric vehicles and cloud computing will be among the areas where industry leaders will share their predictions and recommend a course for the future of the country.

What can be expected?

The shape of the future is already being outlined at major technology events the world over. Starting with January’s Las Vegas-based CES (Consumer Electronics Show), the world’s biggest launchpad for new technology, it became clear that one of the key changes we can expect is a move away from touch screens as interfaces and towards voice.

Signs everywhere exhorted visitors to say “Alexa” or “Hey Google”, to activate devices fitted with Google Assistant and Amazon’s Alexa. The latter was to be found in smart TVs, cars and even coffee machines.

Kitchen appliance maker Gourmia was marketing not its latest appliances, but the fact that its air fryers and pressure cookers were now voice enabled.

The integration of voice with vehicle infotainment and navigation systems saw the trend speed into the automotive arena. Panasonic announced a partnership with Amazon to create Alexa Onboard, to integrate Alexa’s voice control features with cars. Panasonic’s Skip Generation IVI – for In-Vehicle Infotainment – has also been upgraded to the latest version of Android, allowing it all the functionality of Google Assistant.

Smart speakers to control smart homes will become commonplace this year. Headphones, heaters and fridges will respond to our voices.

Other new technologies that leaped out from CES were:

  • Smart TVs using HDR10+, a new standard that allows every single frame of a video or TV broadcast to be mastered individually, meaning that they will adapt the colour and brightness of the display to the needs of every single scene;
  • Nissan’s Brain-to-Vehicle, or B2V, a technology that allows the driver’s brain waves to be synchornised with the vehicle so that, for example, the driver’s intention to brake will be signalled to the car up to one second before the brakes are activated, allowing the car to optimise power to the brakes at just the right moment,
  • The advent of 5G, the next generation of mobile connectivity, with Intel demonstrating a 1.6Gigabyte per second connection that could stream a 4K – or ultra high-definition – video along with a virtual reality movie, at the same time, on a single connection, leaving bandwidth to spare.
  • Innovative ways of launching new models of cars: Kia for the first time chose CES over the Detroit Motor Show to launch a new car, with the Kia Niro EV Concept hybrid car unveiled in Las Vegas. BMW used CES to launch the new X2 in virtual reality – the first car ever formally unveiled in VR. As a result of such activity, CES entered the top 10 of American automobile shows, and we can expect even more automotive focus at tech shows in future.

At the beginning of February, the Cisco Live! Conference in Barcelona saw forecasts, previously covered in this column, going all the way to 2055, coincidentally sharing a time frame with Ekurhuleni.

Among other, according to Rowan Trollope, senior vice president at Cisco, we can expect the following:

2022: Dubai will launch the worlds first driverless hover taxi. 

2027: The first commercial launch of a technology called text-by-thinking. 

2030s: New job tiles on LinkedIn will include positions like Avatar Manager, Body Part Maker, Vertical Farmer, Nano Medic, Climate Change Reversal Specialist, and Waste Data Handler. 

2036:  As a result of reverse engineering the human brain, Alzheimer’s will finally be cured. 

2040: The average home PC will have the computing power of 1-billion human brains. 

2050: Virtual telepathy will dominate personal communications. 

2055: The first permanent human presence on Mars. 

Later in February, global consulting firm Accenture unveiled Technology Vision 2018, an annual report that identifies technological trends most likely to disrupt business in the coming years.

More than 6 000 businesses across 19 industries in 25 countries, including South Africa, were surveyed. The key finding was that the technology revolution is arriving.

 “South African businesses and IT executives are increasingly embracing the power of technology, with 80% of those surveyed agreeing that it can help companies weave themselves seamlessly into the fabric of daily life,” said Willie Schoeman, managing director of Accenture Technology in Africa. 

“Many people may not even realise that they are interacting with new innovations like AI. If you’ve received an automated telemarketing call or interacted with a chatbot online, then AI has already influenced your life.”

Clearly, the changes have only just begun.

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

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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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