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To Mars, and beyond

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Mining the asteroids may be the next great frontier for investors, says Adriana Marais, the only South African selected for the Mars One expedition. She spoke to ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

Dr Adriana Marais is not your typical extraterrestrial. For that matter, she’s not even your typical Earthling. With a doctorate in theoretical physics, a passion for jazz and a lifelong love of reading, she sparkles with enthusiasm. Most of that energy is devoted to her pet topic: why a human colony on a distant planet is not just a good idea, but an essential one.

Adriana is the only South African selected for the Mars One project to establish a permanent human colony on Mars in the next decade. The catch: they can never come back.

Yet, the organisers claim 200 000 people applied for a spot on the mission. Just over a thousand made it to a second round pool, and 100 finalists were announced in February 2016. In September last year, six teams comprising two men and two women were selected – and one was from South Africa.

Many have questioned whether the project is even possible.

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“That’s the point of dreams: the dreamers have a belief in themselves that propels dreams into reality,” she said in an interview this week. “As Nelson Mandela said, something is always impossible until it is done.

Adriana Marais speaking at the Saphila 2017 SAP user conference in Sun City.

“The American announcement that it would put people on the moon was an impossible dream, but it was achieved in eight years. Team size and budget and determination made it happen. We’re in a similar position. I think it will happen unless we self-destruct as a species before then, we will be a species living off Earth in a few decades.”

Adriana Marais speaking at the Saphila 2017 SAP user conference in Sun City.

Adriana Marais speaking at the Saphila 2017 SAP user conference in Sun City.

The question Adriana is asked most often is not an engineering one about space travel, but a psychological one: how will she cope with the desolation of potentially being one of only 24 human beings on an entire planet, for the rest of her life?

She jokes at first: “I’ll finally have some peace and quiet, and have time to read, which I’ve loved to do since I was a child. Seriously, any price you’d need to pay to be one of first members of a new society on a new planet would be worth it.

“I’m very lucky to have been born in this very narrow window of human existence, of life on earth. These few decades are the most unique in the history of the planet.”

The broad project concept

The broad project concept

Meanwhile, she is likely to be kept busy for some of the ten years that have been scheduled for training the astronauts.

Far from leaving everything behind, Adriana’s selection for the project kickstarted a new career: the enterprise software company SAP, which runs 15 Co-innovation Labs across the world,  approached her to run the South African facility. She was appointed head of innovation at SAP Africa, where her duties include driving strategic co-innovation projects and taking responsibility for the SAP Start-up Focus programme, which provides small and medium enterprises with digital solutions to help accelerate growth.

The current planned missions to Mars

The current planned missions to Mars

At this week’s Saphila 2017 SAP user conference in Sun City, she teamed up with a mining software specialist to present her perspective on a topic as visionary as a colony on Mars: mining the asteroids.

“I believe mining resources from asteroids is a more ethical way of mining than disrupting unique ecosystems on Earth, which is teeming with life. And there are far more metals in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter than have ever been detected on planet Earth, on these bodies floating in space not having life on them, waiting to be harvested.”

She gives the example of the asteroid Anteros, a 2km-diameter lump of rock that is so packed with rare minerals, it has been valued at US$5.57-trillion. A methodology has already been developed for asteroid mining, going by the acronym SHEPERD (Secure Handling by Encapsulation of a Planetesimal Heading to Earth-moon Retrograde-orbit Delivery). Adriana enthuses about the engineering innovations that will make the mission profitable.

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“While bringing the samples back to Earth, you can already start mining, using electroforming, which uses gases to differentiate metals from volatiles, which burn off so that you can collect the metals. As you’re electro-forming, you’re doing spectral analysis of the particles flying off. If at any point you find that the metals accumulating are not of sufficient value, you can abort the mission. It provides real time profit analysis.”

Empie Strydom, vice president of marketing at mining software company MineRP, joined Adriana in the presentation to explain the way minerals embedded in asteroids can be detected and valued. His company already provides that services to conventional mining houses on Earth, saving millions through eliminating human error in detecting mineral deposits.

He was equally enthusiastic about the possibilities.

“The time for putting together a space mission is the same as the time it takes to sink a mine shaft, and the cost is the same. The difference is 30 years life of a mine here, in which time you retrieve the minerals and make a profit over time. But when bring back a big rock in one go, you have potentially, for example, a trillion dollars of platinum right there.”

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Samsung A51: Saviour of the mid-range

For a few years, Samsung has delivered some less than favourable mid-range devices compared to the competition. The Galaxy A51 is here to change all that, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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It’s not often one can look at a mid-range phone and mistake it for a flagship. That’s what you can expect to experience when taking the Galaxy A51 out into the open.

Samsung went back to the drawing board with its new range of devices, and it shows. The latest Galaxy A range features some of the highest quality, budget-friendly devices we’ve seen so far. The Samsung Galaxy A51 is one of the best phones we’ve seen in a while, not just aesthetically, but in what it packs into a sub-R7000 price tag.

Looking at the device briefly, it’s very easy to mistake it for a flagship. It features a four-camera array on the back, and an Infinity-O punch-hole display – both of which are features of the high-end Samsung devices. In fact, it features a similar camera array as the Galaxy Note10 Lite but features an additional lens in the array. The cameras line up in an L-shape, clearly avoiding looking like a stovetop.

Apart from the camera array, the back of the handset features a striking pattern called Prism Crush, a pattern of pastel shades that come in black, white, blue, and pink. For the review, we used the Prism Crush Blue colour and it looks really great. The feel is clearly plastic, which isn’t too surprising for a mid-range device, but the design is definitely something that will make users opt for a clear case. It’s also great to see a design pattern that deviates from the standard single iridescent colours many manufacturers have copied from Huawei’s design.

Along the sides, it features a metal-like frame, but again, it’s plastic. On the left side, we find a SIM and microSD card tray while the right side houses the power button and volume rocker. The bottom of the phone features a very welcome USB Type-C port and a 3.5mm headphone jack, which isn’t too uncommon for mid-range phones.

On the front, the device is pretty much all screen, at an 87.4% screen-to-body ratio, thanks to a tiny chin at the bottom and the small punch hole for the camera. The earpiece has also been hidden inside the frame in attempts to maximise this screen-to-body ratio. When powered on, the 6.5-inch display looks vivid and sharp. That’s because Samsung opted to put a Super AMOLED display into this midrange unit, giving it a resolution of 1080 x 2400 (at 405 ppi) in a 20:9 format. This makes the display FullHD+, and perfect for consuming video content like Netflix and YouTube in HD.

Hidden underneath the display is an in-screen fingerprint sensor, which is very surprising to find in a mid-range device. While it is extremely accurate, it takes some getting used to because the sensor is so large that one needs to put one’s entire finger over the right part of the display to unlock it. Most other types of non-in-screen fingerprint sensors don’t mind a partial fingerprint. The display itself feels nothing like the back and that’s because it’s not plastic, but rather Gorilla Glass 3, to prevent the screen from shattering easily.

What’s interesting about this device is finding accessories which aren’t quite available in phone stores yet. When browsing online for screen protectors, one has to be on the lookout for screen protectors that are compatible with the in-screen fingerprint sensor. Make sure to check out the reviews of users before purchasing them.

In terms of software, Samsung has made a great deal of effort to make the experience slick. Gone are the days of TouchWiz (thank goodness) and now we have OneUI in its second version. OneUI makes the phone easier to use by putting most of the interaction on the bottom half of the screen and most of the view on the top part of the screen, where one’s thumbs don’t usually reach.

Out of the box, the device came with Android 10. This is a huge step forward in terms of commitment to running the latest software for major feature updates as well as for Android security patches to keep the device secure.

It also has most of the cool features from the flagship devices, like Samsung Pay, Bixby, and Link to Windows. Samsung Pay is an absolute pleasure to use, even if it still confuses the person taking your payments. From linking my cards, I have stopped taking my wallet out with me because all merchants that accept tap-to-pay will accept Samsung Pay on the A51.

Bixby is useful if you’re in the Samsung app ecosystem, especially for owners of SmartThings devices like Samsung TVs and SmartThings-enabled smart home devices. Otherwise, Google Assistant is still accessible for those who still want to use the standard Google experience.

Link to Windows is an interesting feature that started with the Galaxy Note10 and has since trickled down into the mid-range. It allows users to send SMS messages, view recently taken photos, and receive notifications from the phone, all on a Windows 10 PC. This can be enabled by going to the Your Phone app found in the start menu.

The rear camera is phenomenal for a mid-range device and features a 48MP wide sensor. The photos come out as 12MP images, which is a common trick of many manufacturers to achieve high-quality photography. It does this by combining 4 pixels into a single superpixel to get the best colours out of the picture, while still remaining sharp. It also performs surprisingly well in low light, which is not something we were expecting from a mid-range device.

The 12MP ultra-wide angle lens spans 123-degrees, which is very wide and also useful for getting shots in where one can’t move back further. It’s not as great as the main lens but does the trick for getting everyone in for a group photo in a galley kitchen.

The 5MP depth-sensing lens supplements the portrait mode, which adds a blur effect to the background of the photo – the same lens as its predecessor, the Galaxy A50. It features a 32MP wide-angle selfie camera, which is perfect for fitting everyone into a large group selfie.

The processor is an Exynos 9611, which is an Octa-core processor. It performs well in most situations, and there is software built in to give games a boost, so it performs well with graphically intensive games too. In terms of RAM, there are 4GB, 6GB, and 8GB variants, so keep an eye out for which one you are trying. For the review, we had the 4GB, and it performs well with multitasking and day-to-day tasks.

For storage, it comes in a 128GB model on Samsung’s website, which seems to be the standard size. This is extremely welcome in the mid-range segment and is the largest we’ve seen for internal storage capacity as a starting point.

At a recommended selling price of R6,999, the Samsung Galaxy A51 marks the beginning of a great era for Samsung, because it provides a feature-rich handset at an affordable price.

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Prepare now for 2030

Traditional businesses are toast unless they start preparing for the future now, warns ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

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Don’t say you haven’t been warned. Various forecasts point to the likelihood that technologies using artificial intelligence will generate up to 15% of the world’s gross domestic product by 2030. PwC suggests that it will add $15.7-trillion to the global economy. 

That, in turn, will ensure that a sizeable proportion of the world’s business will be conducted on advanced digital platforms. In other words, the 15% is just the springboard for vast swathes of activity that will dominate business. Those that stick to the old way of doing things will simply be left out of the new economy.

This means traditional businesses are already toast, but only if they decide not to start preparing now.

“This future economy is something that should be on everybody’s mind and in every government’s strategy,” says Mohammed Amin, Dell Technologies senior vice president for Middle East, Russia, Africa and Turkey. During a visit to South Africa this week, he said it was no longer a matter of selling technology for its own sake.

“If you’re not part of this wagon to the future, you need to jump on it. The world’s IT companies are not pushing digital transformation and multi-cloud strategy just for the sake of selling technology. We’re doing it to optimise your business and to help make you part of the future.”

He says three primary trends need to be leveraged by business.

“I believe that artificial intelligence is the ship that is going to take us for the future. The fuel is going to be data. And infrastructure will be software-defined. You have to build an agile, dynamic infrastructure to thrive in this future.”

Amin, an Egyptian-Canadian, points to the sensation created by his late compatriot, the Egyptian diva Umm Kulthum, who died 45 years ago. Last year, she appeared in the world’s first hologram concert, at the World Youth Forum in Egypt. Then, in December, she performed – as a hologram – for paying audiences in Saudi Arabia and Dubai. 

“Imagine people paying for tickets to watch a hologram. It means the world is open to this. It is moving so fast, and we are in the heart of this.”

It is also an example of how technology companies are no longer focused only on technology but also on enhancing human lives. 

“We’re involved in so many projects, from healthcare to education. Education especially is very important, because it is shifting from ‘what to learn’ to ‘how to learn’. It’s an amazing shift. You need to know how to learn because you will need to experience and learn in so many fields to be qualified for the future.”

Amin does not believe doomsday prophecies of much of the world’s population being rendered jobless by robots and AI. However, some “straightforward” jobs will be readily replaceable. Even lawyers and general practice doctors, for example, could be replaced by smartphone apps.

“The job market will grow, but the profile required is going to change. Jobs will be available, but for certain profiles. By 2030, 85% of the job market will be for jobs we don’t know today. This is the challenge that education faces.” 

  • 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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