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Wearable workplace arriving

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Although wearable devices are still pricy and rather primitive with regards to their functionality, ANTON VAN HEERDEN of Sage believes that we will soon see better apps for them and perhaps even see business cases emerge.

Think back eight years to the launch of the original Apple iPhone – a device that seemed at the time like an expensive toy for the wealthy. Today, smartphones with fast LTE connections are pervasive in the workforce and we simply take it for granted that we will have access to documents, email, and company data wherever we are.

In much the same way, we’re only just seeing the wearable computing trend start to take root in South Africa, starting with the wealthier consumer. Many fitness fanatics track their runs, cycle rides and gym workouts with fitness bands such as the Fitbit and some early adopters are walking around with Apple Watches on their wrists.

Workplace adoption seems slow so far. Yet with more and more people relying on wearables in their personal lives, can it be long before these devices start creeping into business environments? Tech-savvy workers drove the ‘bring your own device’ (BYOD) trend when they started bringing smartphones to work; we should not be surprised if they bring about the rise of ‘wear your own device’, too.

Wearables in the office

For now, wearables face a range of barriers. Battery life for smartwatches and other wearables is poor, and the devices remain pricy compared to smartphones and tablets. Even more importantly, outside niches such as health and fitness, there isn’t a killer app for smart wearables to justify their cost.

Sure, it’s useful to get urgent messages on your smartwatch while you’re in a meeting, but is it worth paying upwards of R7000 for this functionality? Yet we can expect many of these obstacles to mainstream adoption to rapidly fall away. Remember how primitive, expensive and limited the first-generation iPhone really was?

In much the same way, wearable devices will get better and less expensive. Connections will become faster and more stable – you only have to compare the speeds of 3G and 4G to see how quickly the mobile world moves. And as prices fall and more people start using wearables, we’ll begin to see new apps and business cases emerge.

What this means for the entrepreneur

Business owners should be keeping a watchful eye on the wearables market to see how it evolves. From smart glasses and smartwatches, we can expect some interesting use cases to emerge in the next few years. Imagine, for example, the potential benefits of hands-free computing in businesses such as manufacturing or field service.

As prices of wearables fall, businesses may find that simple functions such as the unobtrusive alert of a smartwatch offer productivity, collaboration and efficiency boosts that justify their costs. For example, workers could have access to emails, calls, text messages and alerts with a quick glance.

Another potential spin-off comes from the range of location and contextual data businesses could collect from wearable computers. They could, for example, use this data to optimise their deployment of their mobile field sales and services teams or to track drivers who need to venture into dangerous areas.

Changing the way we work and how consumers behave

Though this may sound dystopian to some, using such data wisely can improve both business processes and working conditions. Research from PwC shows that more than three-quarters of South African employees would consider using a wearable device if their employer used the data to improve their conditions in the workplace.

Of course, small business owners should also be keenly watching their customers use wearable devices. Some life and health insurers are already taking note, offering people they insure incentives to wear fitness trackers and share their data. In time, smartwatches and other wearables could serve as electronic keys, digital wallets, and more.

For now, it might seem hard to imagine wearables as making the same impact as smartphones – but then again when we were texting and calling with the first mobile phones, could we have imagined the progression of technology to create what we have now?

At Sage, we believe the future is mobile and we are giving our customers the power to control their businesses from the palm of their hand. We see wearable computing as one of the most exciting developments in this time of seismic technological change and digital invention, and are looking for ways to use it to reinvent and simplify our customers’ businesses.

* Anton van Heerden, Executive Vice-President and Managing Director of Sage in South and Southern Africa.

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Kenya tool to help companies prepare for emergencies

After its team members survived last week’s Nairobi terror attack, Ushahidi decided to release a new preparedness tool for free, writes its CEO, NAT MANNING

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On Tuesday I woke up a bit before 7am in Berkeley, California where I live. I made some coffee and went over to my computer to start my work day. I checked my Slack and the news and quickly found out that there was an ongoing terrorist attack at 14 Riverside Complex in Nairobi, Kenya. The Ushahidi office is in Nairobi and about a third of our team is based there (the rest of us are spread across 10 other countries).

As I read the news, my heart plummeted, and I immediately asked the question, “is everyone on my team okay?”

Five years ago Al-Shabaab committed a similar attack at the Westgate Mall. We spent several tense hours figuring out if any of our team had been in the mall, and verifying that everyone was safe. We found out that one of our team member’s family was caught up in the attack. Luckily they made it out.

At Ushahidi we make software for crisis response, including tools to map disasters and election violence, and yet we felt helpless in the face of this attack. In the days following the Westgate attack, our team huddled and thought about what we could build that would help our team — and other teams — if we found ourselves in a similar situation to this attack again. We identified that when we first learned of the attack, nearly everyone at Ushahidi had spent that first precious few hours trying to answer the basic questions, “Is everyone okay?”, and if not, “Who needs help?” 

People had ad-hoc used multiple channels such as WhatsApp, called, emailed, or texted. We had done this for each person at Ushahidi (their job), in our families, and important people in our community. Our process was unorganised, inefficient, repetitive, and frustrating.

And from this problem we created TenFour, a check in tool that makes it easier for teams to reach one another during times of crisis. It is a simple application that lets people send a message to their team via SMS, Slack, Voice, email, and in-app, and get a response. It also works for educational institutions, companies with distributed staff, as well as part of neighbourhood networks like neighbourhood watches.

This week when I woke up to the news of the attack at Riverside, I immediately opened up the TenFour app.

Click here to read how Nat quickly confirmed the safety of his team.

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Kia multi-collision airbags

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The world’s first multi-collision airbag system has been unveiled by Hyundai Motor Group subsidiary KIA Motors, with the aim of improving airbag performance in multi-collision accidents.

Multi-collision accidents are those in which the primary impact is followed by collisions with secondary objects, such as other vehicles, trees, or electrical posts, which occur in three out of every 10 accidents. Current airbag systems do not offer secondary protection when the initial impact is insufficient to cause them to deploy. 

However, the multi-collision airbag system allows airbags to deploy effectively upon a secondary impact, by calibrating the status of the vehicle and the occupants.

The new technology detects occupants’ positions in the cabin following an initial collision. When occupants are forced into unusual positions, the effectiveness of existing safety technology may be compromised. Multi-collision airbag systems are designed to deploy even faster when initial safety systems may not be effective, providing additional safety when drivers and passengers are most vulnerable. By recalibrating the collision intensity required for deployment, the airbag system responds more promptly during the secondary impact, thereby improving the safety of multi-collision vehicle occupants.

“By improving airbag performance in multi-collision scenarios, we expect to significantly improve the safety of our drivers and passengers,” said Taesoo Chi, head of the Hyundai Motor Group’s Chassis Technology Centre. “We will continue our research on more diverse crash situations as part of our commitment to producing even safer vehicles that protect occupants and prevent injuries.”

According to statistics by the National Automotive Sampling System Crashworthiness Data System (NASS-CDS), an office of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in USA, about 30% of 56,000 vehicle accidents from 2000 to 2012 in the North American region involved multi-collisions. The leading type of multi-collision accidents involved cars crossing over the centre line (30.8%), followed by collisions caused by a sudden stop at highway tollgates (13.5%), highway median strip collisions (8.0%), and sideswiping and collision with trees and electric poles (4.0%). 

These multi-collision scenarios were analysed in multilateral ways to improve airbag performance and precision in secondary collisions. Once commercialised, the system will be implemented in future new KIA vehicles. 

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