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The tech-powered lasso

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More than R1 billion was lost to the South African agricultural economy in 2018 thanks to livestock theft. According to a study released by UNISA, there were more than 29, 000 cases reported over the last financial year, with thousands of animals stolen.

These thefts weigh heavily on the pockets of farmers and put them under immense pressure to find sustainable solutions that don’t bypass the law but do protect their property and their livelihoods. Into this complex quagmire of loss, livelihood and legal ramification steps agri-tech, the trending term for technology designed specifically for the agricultural sector and its unique challenges. Agri-tech has the potential to mitigate the loss of livestock, to reduce financial pressure on the agricultural industry and to minimise the burdens of distance and real-time responses to livestock threats.

FarmRanger, a clever blend of technology and agricultural devices, delivers an elegantly layered platform for livestock management and security. FarmRanger uses a combination of animal collar and app. The collars are fitted to a select number of animals in the herd – for sheep it is approximately one animal per 300 – and constantly monitor the movement of the sheep and, by extension, the herd. When any abnormal movement is detected, the system alerts the relevant person, for example the foreman, the farmer or the neighbourhood watch, by sending them a ‘missed call’ from the collar as well as an app notification. They then use the app to track the animal in real-time, following the detailed information on the app to find the animal’s location and effectively prevent it from being killed or stolen.

“The rising trend of stock theft makes it essential for farmers to use technology so they can stay one step ahead,” says Marius van der Merwe, Product Manager of FarmRanger. “However, the solutions need to be simple and reliable, providing farmers with valuable insight when it is needed the most. FarmRanger is designed to be functional and effective, delivering the right information to farmers so they can mitigate the impact of stock theft on their businesses.”

In addition to providing the farmer with relevant alarms and information, the app shows daily location updates, historical animal positions, and collar data, such as battery level. Working alongside the collar, the app is a simple and effective solution designed to fit into the farmer’s life, not make it more complicated. FarmRanger uses high-end technology – smartphones, GPS, electronic collars, real-time data and application delivery – to provide farmers with a hands-on and reliable tool that anyone can pick up and use without a hefty learning curve. Farmers generally embrace technology when it adds value to their operation; ultimately, they want to focus on the business of farming, so the supporting technology needs to be effective and easy to integrate.

Agri-tech solutions offer farmers an extra layer of insurance; however, they also need to add value. This is what FarmRanger does. The platform minimises the impact of stock theft while also providing customer service, a track record that spans more than 20 years, and technology that works within existing infrastructure limitations. The collars work on the mobile phone network and don’t require that the farms then install radio networks and battery life is up to six months on a rechargeable battery. 

The solution comes from the ETSE Electronics stable which forms part of the Alphawave group. It has successfully introduced more than 4500 active units to 2000 farms across South Africa and Namibia and is tailored to suit the needs of the medium and large farming enterprises. It gives them the security and peace of mind they need to lock in their livestock, ensure their livelihoods and track their herds. Implementation of the solution is growing steadily, cementing FarmRanger’s reputation and reliability.

“It is a trusted 24/7 shepherd that now forms an integral part of the agri-sector repertoire and, as such, is continuously undergoing innovation and development to ensure it remains relevant and on the edge of what agri-tech can offer,” concludes Marnus van Wyk, Director of the Alphawave Group responsible for growing the agri-tech product portfolio.

For further information visit www.alphawave.co.za

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Huge appetite for foldable phones – when prices fall

Samsung, Huawei and Motorola have all shown their cards, but consumers are concerned about durability, size, and enhanced use cases, according to Strategy Analytics

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Foldable devices are a long-awaited disrupter in the smartphone market, exciting leading-edge early adopters keen for a bold new type of device. But the acceptance of foldable devices by mainstream segments will depend on the extent to which the current barriers to adoption are addressed.

Major brands have been throwing their foldable bets into the hat to see what the market wants from a foldable, namely how big the screens should be and how the devices should fold. Samsung and Huawei have both designed devices that unfold from smartphones to tablets, each with their own method of how the devices go about folding. Motorola has recently designed a smartphone that folds in half, and it resembles a flip phone.

Assessing consumer desire for foldable smartphones, a new report from the User Experience Strategies group at Strategy Analytics has found that the perceived value of the foldable form does not outweigh the added cost.

Key report findings include:

  • The idea of having a larger-displayed smartphone in a portable size is perceived as valuable to the vast majority of consumers in the UK and the US. But, willingness to pay extra for a foldable device does not align with the desire to purchase one. Manufacturers must understand that there will be low sell-through until costs come down.
  • But as the acceptance for traditional smartphone display sizes continues to increase, so does the imposed friction of trying to use them one-handed. Unless a foldable phone has a wider folded state, entering text when closed is too cumbersome, forcing users to utilize two hands to enter text, when in the opened state.
  • Use cases need to be adequately demonstrated for consumers to fully understand and appreciate the potential for a foldable phone, though their priorities seemed fixed on promoting ‘two devices in one’ equaling a better video viewing experience. Identification and promotion of meaningful new use cases will be vital to success.

Christopher Dodge, Associate Director, UXIP and report author said: “As multitasking will look to be a core selling point for foldable phones, it is imperative that the execution be simplified and intuitive. Our data suggests there are a lot of uncertainties that come with foldable phone ownership, stemming mainly from concerns with durability and size, in addition to concerns over enhanced use cases.

“But our data also shows that when the consumers are able to use a foldable phone in hand, there is a solid reduction of doubt and concern about the concept. This means that the in-store experience may more important than ever in driving awareness, capabilities, and potential use cases.”

Said Paul Brown, Director, UXIP: “The big question is whether the perceived value will outweigh the added cost; and the initial response from consumers is ‘no.’ The ability for foldable displays to resolve real consumer pain-points is, in our view critical to whether these devices will become a niche segment of the smartphone market or the dominant form-factor of the future. Until costs come down, these devices will not take off.”

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New exploit exposes credit cards on mobile phones

Check Point Security has found that handsets using Qualcomm chipsets that hold credit and debit card credentials are at risk of a new exploit.

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Now it’s more important than ever to update your phone.
Check Point security has found a vulnerability in mobile devices that run Android, which allows credit card details to be accessed by hackers.

Mobile operating systems like Android offer a Rich Execution Environment (REE), providing a hugely extensive and versatile runtime environment, which allows apps to run on the device. However, while bringing flexibility and capability, REE leaves devices vulnerable to a wide range of security threats. A Trusted Execution Environment (TEE) is designed to reside alongside the REE and provide a safe area on the device to protect assets and to execute trusted code. Qualcomm makes use of a secure virtual processor, which is often referred to as the “secure world”, in comparison to the “non-secure world”, where REE resides. 

But Check Point “fuzzed” a “hole” into this secure world 

In a 4-month research project, Check Point researchers attempted and succeeded to reverse Qualcomm’s “Secure World” operating system. Check Point researchers leveraged a “fuzzing” technique to expose the hole. Fuzz testing (fuzzing) is a quality assurance technique used to discover coding errors and security loopholes in software, operating systems or networks. It involves inputting massive amounts of random data, called fuzz, to the test subject in an attempt to make it crash.

Check Point implemented a custom-made fuzzing tool, which tested trusted code on Samsung, LG, and Motorola devices. Through fuzzing, Check Point found 4 vulnerabilities in trusted code implemented by Samsung (including S10), 1 in Motorola, 1 in LG, but all code sourced by Qualcomm itself. To address the vulnerability, the runtime of Android needs to be protected from both attackers and users. This is typically achieved by moving the secure storage software to a hardware-supported TEE.

Check Point Research disclosed its findings directly to the companies and gave them time to patch vulnerabilities. Samsung patched three vulnerabilities and LG patched one. Motorola and Qualcomm responded, but have yet to provide a patch, and there is no confirmation of a release date yet.

Check Point Research has urged mobile phone users to stay vigilant and check their credit and debit card providers for any unusual activity. In the meantime, they are working with the vendors mentioned to issue patches.

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