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This is what makes a Smart City smart

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Upgrading a city’s physical infrastructure is one way of making it smart, but it is a short fix says WAYNE HULL, MD for Accenture Digital SA, who believes a smart city needs to tap into networks like the IoT and 5G.

An increasing number of major African metros are beginning to outgrow themselves. Ageing populations, increasing urban density, resource issues and mobility constraints – these are among the primary issues faced by urban areas.

Upgrading or adding to physical infrastructure is possible, but urban adjustment is notoriously slow, and cities’ budgets are increasingly tight. To cope with the demands they’ll face tomorrow, cities need to find ways of making the most of what they’ve got today.

By optimising the flow of everything from traffic to electricity and information around a city, urban life can become far easier, with the potential for cost savings through reduced waste.

Intelligent digital-physical interfaces have the potential to enable new opportunities for resource maximisation, efficiency gains and an enhanced quality of life for end users – in this case, the citizens of major metro areas.

The challenges faced by today’s metros are multifaceted. On one hand, metros are faced with increasing demands for accountability and transparency by citizens and activist groups. On the other, cities face the task of better serving citizens against a backdrop of sub-optimal and fragmented legacy systems, siloed data stores and budgetary, resource and skills constraints.

It’s a confluence that has given rise to the ‘smart city’ concept. In a smart city, digital-physical interfaces, sensors, smart software and Internet of Things-centred technologies work together to enhance and streamline how the city runs. By tapping into and analysing multiple networks of real-time information – covering everything from traffic flow to parking and electricity usage – smart city technologies are focused on one thing: optimising available resources.

IoT, 5G and a new network paradigm

Unlike current mobile networks which employ ‘large-cell’ technology – with macro cell towers, each of which services a large area – smart city networks require an inverse type of architecture: a dense lattice of small cells (data processing devices and sensors) spread throughout the city, fitted anywhere from utility poles to buildings’ basements, and which run 5G technology.

Within 5G networks, the emphasis shifts from media consumption to mobility, and from increased bandwidth to reduced latency. Further changes come in the form of the integration of network function virtualisation (NFV) and software defined network (SDN) capabilities within the network itself, allowing for the move from always-on coverage to instant service instantiation as and when needed.

Future 5G networks will host a variety of service types. Those falling under massive machine-type communication (mMTC), for example, include applications such as telemetry, meters, public lighting systems and security devices.cleardot.gif

Further examples of mMTC solutions include the management of vehicle traffic and electrical grids, with the possibility for substantial savings through reductions in energy use, traffic congestion and fuel. Smart public lighting concepts, for example, automatically dim public lighting when no pedestrians or vehicles are near, conserving power, while still keeping a neighbourhood safe.

Still further mMTC applications include sensors designed to detect leaks in water mains, with such ultra-low power devices allowing sensors to run for many years without needing battery replacement.

A second service type, critical machine type communication, includes applications such as vehicle-to-vehicle communication, autonomous vehicles and public transport. Smart city technologies have the ability to improve public transport systems, for example, by reducing wait times, optimising utilisation and – with information from traffic flow sensors – allowing for dynamic routing. More broadly, smart cities have the potential to reduce traffic congestion overall, through smart traffic management systems.

Smart cities and the city ‘OS’

Co-innovation and co-creation are likely to play key roles in the development of smart city technologies, the combination of which can be thought of as a city operating system, or city OS. To enable the necessary changes, however, thinking must move from evolutionary – improving on services and applications enabled by current mobile networks – to revolutionary, employing new approaches directed toward new entirely new use cases.

From citizens’ perspectives, living in a smart city means the potential for anything from access to a more efficient public transport system to enhanced safety and security. For municipalities, benefits centre around improved citizen outcomes, the ability to engage in predictive maintenance, better use of data and more efficient resource use, meaning cost savings for many cash-strapped metros.

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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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