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Traffic must get smarter

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As our cities grow and get smarter, our streets in turn get busier. TEDDY DAKA, Group CEO, Ansys Limited, believes that in order to control traffic, we have to become smarter.

Without wanting to be accused of national stereotyping, one thing that strikes me every time I visit a new country is how subtly unique each place is when it comes to the way people drive. Sometimes it’s because the rules are simply different – South Africa’s four-way stops are as incomprehensible to some northern Europeans as roundabouts seem to be here. In other ways, it’s just customs that have developed over time – the National Road Traffic Act is very specific about when and where hazard lights should be used, and it’s certainly not to show that you’re slowing down or to say thanks.

One thing everyone involved in traffic management knows, however, is that we have to get smarter. As our cities get bigger and our citizens more mobile, our roads will become more congested and gridlocked unless we can find better solutions for everything from parking to car sharing to public transport. The Gauteng City Region Observatory says that population and population density around Tshwane and Johannesburg is growing faster than the rest of the country, and will soon be on a par with the world’s most packed places.

We know that smart cities and the internet of things (IoT) will be an integral part of our effort to reconcile urban growth with quality of living. But we’re right at the start of figuring out how these ideas will be effectively applied in a country like South Africa.

One area that is relatively unexplored, for example, is the area of in-car telematics. Outside of logistics and the tags used for eTolls, our cars are still pretty dumb and traffic management principles haven’t changed for decades. That’s not to belittle investments made in adding mobile SIM cards to traffic lights, for example, but thanks to the falling cost of data communications and the development of low-bandwidth technologies such as Random Phase Multiple Access (RPMA) radio networks, it’s now entirely feasible to develop large scale, two-way machine-to-machine (M2M) communications for vehicles on our highways and byways.

Such technology can provide traffic managers with real-time data and analytics to optimise the transport network at the macro and micro levels. Predicting congestion and instant accident detection is one part, but so is the ability for commuters to get up-to-the-minute recommendations on routes and the most efficient mode of transport.

M2M communications are a pre-requisite for future transport models such as self-driving cars, which have the Artificial Intelligence (AI) capabilities to organise themselves for optimum travel. Right now at Ansys we’ve been working with international vendors and municipal and national enforcement and roads authorities to understand the kinds of solutions that are possible today.

Through utilising Ingenu’s M2M network technology we’ve developed an in-car IoT device that plug into the diagnostic port on any recently manufactured vehicle and can be used for fleet management, customer safety,  accident alerts, driver behaviour monitoring or law enforcement. Today, insurance companies using this kind of technology can reward the best drivers, while at the same time improving their recovery rates for stolen vehicles.

The next applications for in-car M2M devices will be to build on the kinds of features we see in today’s smartphones. Google Maps can alert you of a traffic incident ahead and advise you to take a different route. Integrating the same kind of location-aware devices into a smart city network will give city authorities the grid-wide ability to dynamically change routes and speed limits.

Law enforcement, too, is an active area of development. We’re using the same devices and our Connected Car platform to create “virtual pounds” for traffic cops in the Middle East. When a vehicle is ordered off the road, the current costs of storing it at a police lot and being liable for damage are much higher than most people realise. Like ankle tags for offenders, on-board devices can put a vehicle under “house arrest”, alerting authorities if an engine is started or the vehicle is moved and reducing the costs of transport, storage and insurance to zero.

There are many other things that are possible – including automating fines for not fastening seatbelts or breaking the speed limit, for example – but also a lot still to be learned and understood. Can we balance smart traffic solutions with the driver’s right to privacy, for example, and is the security of the underlying platform strong enough?

What we do know is that all solutions will be driven by local needs, and with road-related fatalities and commuting times among the worst in the world, South Africa has desperate needs that need innovative solutions.

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Money talks and electronic gaming evolves

Computer gaming has evolved dramatically in the last two years, as it follows the money, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK in the second of a two-part series.

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The clue that gaming has become big business in South Africa was delivered by a non-gaming brand. When Comic Con, an American popular culture convention that has become a mecca for comics enthusiasts, was hosted in South Arica for the first time last month, it used gaming as the major drawcard. More than 45 000 people attended.

The event and its attendance was expected to be a major dampener for the annual rAge gaming expo, which took place just weeks later. Instead, rAge saw only a marginal fall in visitor numbers. No less than 34 000 people descended on the Ticketpro Dome for the chaos of cosplay, LAN gaming, virtual reality, board gaming and new video games. 

It proved not only that there was room for more than one major gaming event, but also that a massive market exists for the sector in South Africa. And with a large market, one also found numerous gaming niches that either emerged afresh or will keep going over the years. One of these, LAN (for Local Area Network) gaming, which sees hordes of players camping out at the venue for three days to play each other on elaborate computer rigs, was back as strong as ever at rAge.

MWeb provided an 8Gbps line to the expo, to connect all these gamers, and recorded 120TB in downloads and 15Tb in uploads – a total that would have used up the entire country’s bandwidth a few years ago.

“LANs are supposed to be a thing of the past, yet we buck the trend each year,” says Michael James, senior project manager and owner of rAge. “It is more of a spectacle than a simple LAN, so I can understand.”

New phenomena, often associated with the flavour of the moment, also emerge every year.

“Fortnite is a good example this year of how we evolve,” says James. “It’s a crazy huge phenomenon and nobody was servicing the demand from a tournament point of view. So rAge and Xbox created a casual LAN tournament that anyone could enter and win a prize. I think the top 10 people got something each round.”

Read on to see how esports is starting to make an impact in gaming.

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Blockchain unpacked

Blockchain is generally associated with Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, but these are just the tip of the iceberg, says ESET Southern Africa.

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This technology was originally conceived in 1991, when Stuart Haber and W. Scott Stornetta described their first work on a chain of cryptographically secured blocks, but only gained notoriety in 2008, when it became popular with the arrival of Bitcoin. It is currently gaining demand in other commercial applications and its annual growth is expected to reach 51% by 2022 in numerous markets, such as those of financial institutions and the Internet of Things (IoT), according to MarketWatch.

What is blockchain?

A blockchain is a unique, consensual record that is distributed over multiple network nodes. In the case of cryptocurrencies, think of it as the accounting ledger where each transaction is recorded.

A blockchain transaction is complex and can be difficult to understand if you delve into the inner details of how it works, but the basic idea is simple to follow.

Each block stores:

–           A number of valid records or transactions.
–           Information referring to that block.
–           A link to the previous block and next block through the hash of each block—a unique code that can be thought of as the block’s fingerprint.

Accordingly, each block has a specific and immovable place within the chain, since each block contains information from the hash of the previous block. The entire chain is stored in each network node that makes up the blockchain, so an exact copy of the chain is stored in all network participants.

As new records are created, they are first verified and validated by the network nodes and then added to a new block that is linked to the chain.

How is blockchain so secure?

Being a distributed technology in which each network node stores an exact copy of the chain, the availability of the information is guaranteed at all times. So if an attacker wanted to cause a denial-of-service attack, they would have to annul all network nodes since it only takes one node to be operative for the information to be available.

Besides that, since each record is consensual, and all nodes contain the same information, it is almost impossible to alter it, ensuring its integrity. If an attacker wanted to modify the information in a blockchain, they would have to modify the entire chain in at least 51% of the nodes.

In blockchain, data is distributed across all network nodes. With no central node, all participate equally, storing, and validating all information. It is a very powerful tool for transmitting and storing information in a reliable way; a decentralised model in which the information belongs to us, since we do not need a company to provide the service.

What else can blockchain be used for?

Essentially, blockchain can be used to store any type of information that must be kept intact and remain available in a secure, decentralised and cheaper way than through intermediaries. Moreover, since the information stored is encrypted, its confidentiality can be guaranteed, as only those who have the encryption key can access it.

Use of blockchain in healthcare

Health records could be consolidated and stored in blockchain, for instance. This would mean that the medical history of each patient would be safe and, at the same time, available to each doctor authorised, regardless of the health centre where the patient was treated. Even the pharmaceutical industry could use this technology to verify medicines and prevent counterfeiting.

Use of blockchain for documents

Blockchain would also be very useful for managing digital assets and documentation. Up to now, the problem with digital is that everything is easy to copy, but Blockchain allows you to record purchases, deeds, documents, or any other type of online asset without them being falsified.

Other blockchain uses

This technology could also revolutionise the Internet of Things  (IoT) market where the challenge lies in the millions of devices connected to the internet that must be managed by the supplier companies. In a few years’ time, the centralised model won’t be able to support so many devices, not to mention the fact that many of these are not secure enough. With blockchain, devices can communicate through the network directly, safely, and reliably with no need for intermediaries.

Blockchain allows you to verify, validate, track, and store all types of information, from digital certificates, democratic voting systems, logistics and messaging services, to intelligent contracts and, of course, money and financial transactions.

Without doubt, blockchain has turned the immutable and decentralized layer the internet has always dreamed about into a reality. This technology takes reliance out of the equation and replaces it with mathematical fact.

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