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The phone that changes lives

It’s not going to take on the smartphone giants, but the new CAT phone is more likely to change lives, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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When emergency responders arrived on the scene of a recent car accident along the Garden Route in the southern Cape, they found an unconscious man in the vehicle. But something about the belongings strewn about suggested there must have been more occupants.

A search of the bushes along the road, using flashlights, didn’t produce results. Then a team member used a Cat S60 smartphone, initiating its thermal imaging camera. Almost immediately, they found two “heat signatures”, which led them to two people who had been thrown out of the vehicle. They were in a serious and critical condition, but could be treated while there was still time. 

“The thermal imaging camera is a life saver for us and has become a must have after it helped save lives and property,” says Gee Swart, team leader at EDR International, a disaster risk reduction and response agency.

The team also use their Cat S60s to take emergency calls, dispatching resources through cellular calls and Push-to-talk (PTT), a two-way radio-type calling function. These were all bonuses; the main reason they were using the phone was for its rugged design and durability in harsh environments.

“The ruggedness and durability are like no other device I’ve used before,” says Swart. “I’ve used it on fire lines where it can be 60 degrees plus. I’ve used it in sub-zero temperatures and it performed brilliantly. It’s been dropped more times than I can remember and it has survived direct sprays from fire hoses.” 

It is rare to come across such enthusiasm for a handset. Yet, Cat phones are almost unknown among consumers. They are built by the Bullitt Group, under license from industrial and construction vehicle maker Caterpillar. 

When the first handsets emerged with that brand, it competed with a wide variety of devices in what became known as the rugged phone category. A heavy focus on durability in extreme situations and specialised requirements in those situations eventually set it apart. The thermal camera on the Cat S60 cemented its reputation, and it was regarded as the ultimate rugged phone.

Now, the new Cat S61 takes reputational leadership of the segment further. It arrived in South Africa this month, to the cheers of emergency workers, game rangers, security officers and construction workers. It refines the design of the S60, with a full rubber back, improved thermal camera, air quality sensor, and a laser assisted distance sensor. A ridge used on the S60 to house additional technology is now a design feature, referred to as a sharkfin, further differentiating the phone.

The distance sensor is intended to be an estimation tool, and is ideal for measuring rooms, buildings and spaces for renovation, repairs, furnishing, and alterations. But it may well produce new approaches and even business models once it becomes widely used.

“Two years ago, we didn’t know how people were going to use the thermal camera,” said Pete Cunningham, vice president and senior product head at Bullitt He is also the mind behind the Cat S60 and S61 phones and their features. “We didn’t invent the thermal camera, but we were the first to put it in a smartphone.  We knew the obvious things. But, for example, we didn’t know how and to what extent it would be used in agriculture. 

“We didn’t expect highly specialised uses like roofers checking if beams are rotten because they can detect higher water content. As a result when UK local authorities are called in to repair a leaking roof, instead of going into a property and replacing a whole roof, they only need to replace a segment of roof.”

Speaking during a visit to South Africa last week, Cunningham said one of his favourite examples of unexpected uses was in animal husbandry.

“Earlier this year a farmer in England, Rob Hodgkins, was out delivering lambs, and he was using the thermal camera because the heat map lets you see inflammation in animals, when one area generates more heat than another. In the past, he had used thermal imaging cameras, which cost thousands of pounds, to help find and identify hypothermic lambs.

“The snow had come late this year, and lambs were being born while the snow was thick on the ground. He learned of a lamb that had become separated from its mother at night, due to a dog scaring the sheep, and raced to the scene. Using the thermal camera on his phone, he found the creature in total darkness.”

In South Africa, the Cat S60 brought instant success to policeman Stoffel Holtzhausen, who bought it when he heard about the thermal imaging feature. Within one week of purchasing it, he used it to catch two dangerous criminals who had escaped custody.

He often drops the phone while holding down criminals, and it has fallen out of his pocket while he was riding a police motorcycle. Yet, it remains completely usable. This kind of experience delivers a level of customer satisfaction that marketing can’t buy. 

Word of such successes spreads fast, and South Africa is consistently Cat’s second or third biggest market in the world, with Germany showing the highest sales. The Cat S60 is expected to have sold half-a-million units when it reaches the end of its marketing life.

“We see tremendously high satisfaction rates,” says Cunningham. “No less than 88% of users say they would recommend us to friends and family, and 89% indicate they are very likely to buy a Cat phone again in future. You have to make a conscious decision to buy one of these products. You’re going against the mainstream. We have a community and they’re very engaged with us.”

The result, in recent years, has been rapid growth. In the first five years after its founding in 2009, Bullitt numbered only 25 full-time staff. Since Cunningham joined in 2014, the team has grown almost ten-fold, and will reach 250 by the end of this year.

“We talk intensively to our customers. Over the last two years we surveyed over 50 000 Cat users. Data and feedback from those conversations drive how we shape the portfolio for the future. The S61 came about because of survey data from our users. For example, customers told us they were disappointed in camera performance, so we used that to guide us to improve it. 

“Now you can use cool technology to enhance images. So if a plumber is taking a photo in low light of a part number under the sink, the software in the phone recognizes text in the photo and enhances the image quality for reading text.”

Cunnignham enthuses about the numerous tests done to push the limits of the phone’s durability, from putting it in tumble dryers to using it in the sea. An underwater mode, now standard in Cat phones, allows the power button to be used to switch between video and still images.

From capturing action under the sea to tracking poachers in game reserves, from tracing hot water pipes behind walls to hanging curtains, it is a phone that is changing working lives. Not to mention saving lives.

CAT S61 specs:

Display: 5.2” Full HD (1920 x 1080), IPS, auto switch support and wet-finger / glove-on working technology; Corning Gorilla Glass 5
Storage: 64 GB ROM
Memory: 4 GB RAM (Expandable via microSD card)
Processor: Qualcomm SD630 Octacore 2.2GHz
Operating system: Google Android Oreo (with upgrade to P, the next version of Android)
Audio: FM Radio, Music Player
Video Recording: 3840 × 2160 at 30 fps Video Playback: 3840 × 2160 at 30 fps
Maximum Downlink Data Rate: 600Mbps
Maximum Uplink Data Rate: 150Mbps
Side: Power key, volume (up/down), programmable key
Sensors: Thermal camera (FLIR); Indoor Air Quality Sensor (humidity & temperature); E-compass; Proximity Sensor; Ambient Light Sensor; Accelerometer; Gyroscope; Location; Barometer.
Dimensions: 150 x 76 x 13mmRugged features: Ingress Protection (IP68) – sand, dust and dirt resistant, waterproof up to 3m for 60 minutes; Drop Tested up to 1.8m onto concrete ; Military spec 810G; Thermal Shock – handles low to high temperature differences from -30°C to 65°C for up to 24hours; resistant to vibration – category 4; Resistant to humidity and salt mist
Main camera: 16MP autofocus with PDAF, Dual LED flash Thermal: FLIR Lepton
Front camera: 8MP fixed focus
Battery capacity: 4500mAh, Quick charge 4.0
Other: Audio Jack, Bluetooth, NFC, USB Type C, USB-OTG, Nano SIM, GPS

  •    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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Opera launches built-in VPN on Android browser

Opera has released a new version of its mobile browser, which features a built-in virtual private network service.

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Opera has released a new version of its mobile browser, Opera for Android 51, which features a built-in VPN (virtual private network) service.

A VPN allows users to create a secure connection to a public network, and is particularly useful if users are unsure of the security levels of the public networks that they use often.

The new VPN in Opera for Android 51 is free, unlimited and easy to use. When enabled, it gives users greater control of their online privacy and improves online security, especially when connecting to public Wi-Fi hotspots such as coffee shops, airports and hotels. The VPN will encrypt Internet traffic into and out of their mobile devices, which reduces the risk of malicious third parties collecting sensitive information.

“There are already more than 650 million people using VPN services globally. With Opera, any Android user can now enjoy a free and no-log service that enhances online privacy and improves security,” said Peter Wallman, SVP Opera Browser for Android.

When users enable the VPN included in Opera for Android 51, they create a private and encrypted connection between their mobile device and a remote VPN server, using strong 256-bit encryption algorithms. When enabled, the VPN hides the user’s physical location, making it difficult to track their activities on the internet.

The browser VPN service is also a no-log service, which means that the VPN servers do not log and retain any activity data, all to protect users privacy.

“Users are exposed to so many security risks when they connect to public Wi-Fi hotspots without a VPN,” said Wallman. “Enabling Opera VPN means that users makes it difficult for third parties to steal information, and users can avoid being tracked. Users no longer need to question if or how they can protect their personal information in these situations.”

According to a report by the Global World Index in 2018, the use of VPNs on mobile devices is rising. More than 42 percent of VPN users on mobile devices use VPN on a daily basis, and 35 percent of VPN users on computers use VPN daily.

The report also shows that South African VPN users said that their main reason for using a VPN service is to remain anonymous while they are online.

“Young people in particular are concerned about their online privacy as they increasingly live their lives online,” said Wallman. “Opera for Android 51 makes it easy to benefit from the security and anonymity of VPN , especially for those may not be aware of how to set these up.”

Setting up the Opera VPN is simple. Users just tap on the browser settings, go to VPN and enable the feature according to their preference. They can also select the region of their choice.

The built-in VPN is free, which means that users don’t need to download additional apps on their smartphones or pay additional fees as they would for other private VPN services. With no sign-in process, users don’t need to log in every time they want to use it.

Opera for Android is available for download in Google Play. The rollout of the new version of Opera for Android 51 will be done gradually per region.

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Future of the car is here

Three new cars, with vastly different price-tags, reveal the arrival of the future of wheels, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

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Just a few months ago, it was easy to argue that the car of the future was still a long way off, at least in South Africa. But a series of recent car launches have brought the high-tech vehicle to the fore in startling ways.

The Jaguar i-Pace electric vehicle (EV), BMW 330i and the Datsun Go have little in common, aside from representing an almost complete spectrum of car prices on the local market. Their tags start, respectively, at R1.7-million, R650 000 and R150 000.

Such a widely disparate trio of vehicles do not exactly come together to point to the future. Rather, they represent different futures for different segments of the market. But they also reveal what we can expect to become standard in most vehicles produced in the 2020s.

Jaguar i-Pace

The i-Pace may be out of reach of most South Africans, but it ushers in two advances that will resonate throughout the EV market as it welcomes new and more affordable cars. It is the first electric vehicle in South Africa to beat the bugbear of range anxiety.

Unlike the pioneering “old” Nissan Leaf, which had a range of up to about 150km, and did not lend itself to long distance travel, the i-Pace has a 470km range, bringing it within shouting distance of fuel-powered vehicles. A trip from Johannesburg to Durban, for example, would need just one recharge along the way.

And that brings in the other major advance: the i-Pace is the first EV launched in South Africa together with a rapid public charging network on major routes. It also comes with a home charging kit, which means the end of filling up at petrol stations.

The Jaguar i-Pace dispels one further myth about EVs: that they don’t have much power under the hood. A test drive around Gauteng revealed not only a gutsy engine, but acceleration on a par with anything in its class, and enough horsepower to enhance the safety of almost any overtaking situation.

Specs for the Jaguar i-Pace include:

  • All-wheel drive
  • Twin motors with a combined 294kW and 696Nm
  • 0-100km/h in 4.8s
  • 90kWh Lithium-ion battery, delivering up to 470km range
  • Eight-year/160 000km battery warranty
  • Two-year/34 000km service intervals

Click here to read about BMW’s self-driving technology, and how Datsun makes smart technology affordable.

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