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When blockchain makes sense

By JIM HOLLAND, regional director at Lenovo Data Center Group EMEA

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Blockchain technology has become the technology solution of “trust” and a key driver for digital transformation. But before businesses can develop a blockchain adoption strategy for their organisation, it’s important to understand what makes this shared digital ledger so unique, how it can be used outside of crypto use cases to support specific business needs and the capabilities it can offer to some of the fastest-growing sectors in the industry.

Increasing Efficiency by Cutting Out the Middle Man

Disruption is all about increasing efficiency by cutting out the middle man and directly connecting two individual people or companies who want to do business. Blockchain was originally developed to support cryptocurrency, which removes banks from the middle of a transfer of funds between two parties. Today, blockchain is eliminating a third party in an astounding assortment of industries by establishing an unprecedented level of trust.

Greater Trust Means Greater Efficiency

Imagine what the business world would be like if everyone completely trusted everyone else to deliver exactly what they said they would. There would be no need for cumbersome validation processes. With blockchain, there is no chance of human error or false identity. When a bank, a manufacturer or a supplier knows that they can absolutely trust the identity of the person they are transferring funds to, the data they are getting from a sensor is valid or the amount of electricity a consumer is using and being charged for is correct, it eliminates a giant, unwieldy, human-led part of the transaction process and allows everyone to get business done faster and more efficiently.

With blockchain, all participants in the ecosystem are vetted. The blockchain ledger cannot be changed, except by consensus, and it is immune to tampering. For example, if two parties agree upon a smart contract to ship 100 items, blockchain technology ensures that 100 items are shipped, there is automatic confirmation that 100 items are received and payment to both the vendor and the shipper is transferred instantly. Processes that could take days or weeks to reconcile, involving a large number of human participants, are resolved in moments.

Blockchain as a Stepping Stone for Digital Transformation

Because all participants are vetted and their identity is confirmed, blockchain is ideal for high-security environments like banks. One government bank in Europe wanted to implement blockchain as part of their digital transformation, so Lenovo has been working with the government to establish a digital identification system that will be used by governmental agencies and commercial banks throughout the country and has already implemented the architecture of a new blockchain platform.

Advancing the IoT Revolution

Blockchain has ramifications for other aspects of business, especially when incorporating the Internet of Things (IoT). One of the issues with IoT is the increasing security risk of the billions of devices that will inevitably be deployed and operational within the next year. It is much harder to secure devices on the edge, especially with so many of them. A decentralised security system like blockchain is what is needed to make sure those devices aren’t hacked. With blockchain, the IoT revolution can continue, safely.

At Lenovo, we are working with a drone company that is combining a blockchain solution with artificial intelligence (AI) in an IoT context. The drones scan sensors on things like wind turbines and transmit that data back to a central office to be analysed. Blockchain technology guarantees that data is accurate, time-stamped and secure. The end user’s insurance company no longer needs to insert itself into the process to validate the data, and a human doesn’t have to go near dangerous equipment such as wind turbines to inspect it.

Business Transparency Enhances Consumer Trust

While blockchain uses trust to enhance security and safety, some companies also see a business opportunity to create a better customer experience. Providing transparency into business processes makes customers feel like they can trust that business, especially when combined with giving the customer more control. Blockchain makes both of these things possible. For instance, a company in Germany is developing blockchain-powered refrigerators that will allow consumers to not only monitor their refrigerator’s electricity usage, but also choose where that electricity comes from (wind farms, solar, etc.).

Transforming the Supply Chain

The supply chain is yet another area where blockchain is cutting out middle men, speeding up the process and giving more control to the consumer. A company in Seattle, Washington is using smart contracts to let consumers track their coffee from the bean in the field to their cup. This not only ensures that consumers are getting what they paid for, it even allows them to choose which farmers to buy from. Coffee bean farmers will be able to watch the same process, seeing where and for what price their coffee is actually being traded, eliminating fraud and confusion. At Lenovo, we’re using blockchain to transform our enormously complex supply chain and make it more efficient.

We’ve only just scratched the surface of blockchain’s potential for business. The key to transformation is knowledge of how this technology works and is evolving. As customers consider embarking on a blockchain journey or adopting new solutions to bolster existing capabilities, they should always be thinking about how solutions can be customised to fit the future needs of their business for an ever-increasing competitive edge.

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Hi-tech reinvents the massage

Virtual reality is invading the world of health and beauty – or is the other way round? ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK discovers a new role for VR through the ancient art of massage.

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Sheer Bliss founder Nadine Hocter gives Bryan Turner a VR massage at the World Wide Worx offices

Imagine you are sitting at your office desk, stretched by deadlines and stressed by office politics. A minute later, you are sitting on a idyllic beach, watching the sunset, and someone is gently massaging your neck.

That’s probably a common fantasy, but now it is also a reality, thanks to the next big step in massage therapy. The ancient art is being transformed by virtual reality (VR), with massage clinics and therapists the world over discovering the transformative power of the technology.

In South Africa, the revolution is led by a company called Sheer Bliss, which works in the corporate space, mainly visiting company offices and call centres. The massage is quick – typically 6 minutes – but the combination of working the most stressed muscles and offering a brief escape to a beach paradise amplifies the experience.

Massage therapy goes back in history several thousand years, first as a sacred form of natural healing in India and later to pamper royals and the rich in ancient Egypt. These days, it is democratised, at least if you can afford it. But thanks to VR, it can now become a mass market experience. Sheer Bliss conducts an average of 27,000 massages a year, with teams in Johannesburg, Cape Town and KZN. Its mobile massage concept means it can also cater for conferences and large sporting events.

However, it’s not so much a case of VR saving the massage industry, as massage giving VR a boost, by providing a wonderful use case for its practical application.

“We needed to find something new to offer our customers,” says Nadine Hocter, founder of Sheer Bliss. “At the same time, we were looking at a way to future-proof the business. I was really lucky in that a group of MBA students at GIBS were given Sheer Bliss for their innovation project. 

“We spoke about various ways of making our original massage more immersive. VR was mentioned, but it was in a meeting with a client who wasn’t biting that we sold the idea. Without realising it at the time, our business moved into a class encompassing the 4th Industrial Revolution.”

Visit the next page to more about how Sheer Bliss became the first virtual reality massage therapy business in South Africa.

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Drones fight forest fires

The South African forest fire season began a month ago, and an estimated 20807 hectares of land were burnt in the Western Cape.

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With such rampant and regular breakouts of forest fires, the quest to contain them before they cause widespread destruction, including property damage and loss of life, remains an issue of high importance for non-governmental organisations and the relevant government agencies. Equally important is the need to safeguard against the loss of the lives of firefighters during missions to contain these blazes.

As this continues being an issue, mainly because of the dense vegetation found in the Western Cape, coupled with the dry weather that is typical for this time of the year, the need to use unmanned aircraft to fight fires is ever increasing.

Drones are particularly crucial for forest fires that tend to get out of control quickly and that put both pilots and crew at risk. There’s only a small containment window between when the fire starts and when it gets out of control. Drones give firefighters a bird’s eye view of the terrain and helps them determine where the fire moves next so they can swiftly make decisions about where crews should go and who should be evacuated.

If you’re a firefighter responsible for forest fire response, mitigation and rescue, the benefits of drones are immense. We’ve detailed the main 4 benefits with supplemental stories below.

1. Drones Gather Situational Awareness in a Short Time

A drone helps you decide within minutes the type and amount of resources to send to the scene. Some drones are also equipped with thermal sensors, which uses infrared radiation to help first responders locate heat signatures of humans and fire hotspots that show where fires are most likely to spread. Even before your personnel arrive on the scene, commanders are able to make decisions just from these images live-streamed to their computers.

In early December whilst fighting a blaze, SanParks made use of a DJI drone with an infrared camera to capture images of the Rocklands fire in Simonstown.

In a similar incident in the German town of Hechingen, firefighters had to fight against winds that were spreading to nearby wooded and populated areas. The creeks had dried out while the first fire truck that arrived carried only 2,000 liters of water.

Hechingen’s Fire Brigade deployed DJI’s Matrice 210 ruggedised commercial grade drone, a Zenmuse XT thermal camera, and an X4S high definition visual imaging camera. These fed information to the incident commanders and helped them know where to direct their resources, how many units to send and where to increase water supply.  At the end, the crew extinguished the blaze with only 5,000 liters of water mixed with compressed air foam. The drones not only helped them save water but more importantly hastened reaction time helping the Brigade send crews faster to the scene with the exact manpower, units and supplies.

“The biggest advantage came to light during the search for hotspots and extinguishing them,” Hechingen’s Fire Chief Commander Bulach later told DJI, “The simultaneous deployment of the XT and X4S provided me with exact information about where to delete the hotspots and how long until we reached a safe state.”

2. Drones Protect Your Personnel

Drones help you monitor your crew to make sure you’re sending them in the right direction, that they’re safe and to help you determine whether to send backup forces.

On 13 August 2017, Yosemite firefighters battled a 9-day blaze in Southfork, California, that was complicated by weakened timber trees in the nearby region. Flying planes in the tight canyons was dangerous due to a bellowing column of smoke. At the same time, an unexpected thunderstorm spread the fire, blurring the firefighters’ primary containment line and threatening to spread to nearby villages.  The Yosemite fire-force used a DJI drone with the Zenmuse XT thermal payload in their pre-shift early morning hours to map fire lines and livestream information to controllers for operational decisions and situational awareness.  Tony Eggiman, Menlo Park FPD Fire Captain recalled, “the operations major told me later it brought his blood pressure from about 200 down to about 100. He was really happy.”

With aerial intelligence captured by drones, incident commanders can make better-informed decisions that keep firefighters safe while they plunge into fire and other dangerous spots to save other peoples’ lives.

 3. Drones Enable Fast Mapping for Incident Response as Well as for Post-Incident Recovery

Drone solutions for forest fire response typically carry two different cameras: a visual camera and a thermal camera. The visual camera gives you a real-time view of different situations, able to easily spot things such as your fire team or nearby equipment. The thermal camera scouts for heat signature of the human or fire hotspots.

Drones fly lower than helicopters, providing a more nuanced picture of the situation, and can navigate in tight or dangerous spaces where no helicopter pilot would dare to go. With thermal imaging capabilities, they can locate hotspots at a fire scene within seconds, and see people trapped even in areas of thick smoke.

Drones also play an important role after the fire has been put out. During the Carr Fire, crews piloted low-flying drones to capture 360-degree images of the destruction. For the residents forced out of their homes, this provided invaluable information on property damage to assess insurance claims in a faster time, letting victims more quickly take steps to rebuild their lives.

4. Drones Give you Accurate Intelligence for Informed Decision Making

Wildfires often involve large-scale operations where the incident commander must make decisions on personnel and resource deployment. Drones are effective intelligence generators that can capture detailed data and information from the field, and live stream back to the command centre. By having that real-time aerial view, you can see exactly what’s happening and don’t have to rely on second-hand information. You know what’s going on and where. You can also monitor your crew to see their location and that you’re sending them in the right direction.

Drones allowed firefighters of the Gaoming district, Foshan in South China to expertly evaluate 960 people when a fire broke out on Lingyun Mountain near the area, December 12, 2019.

The DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise Dual (M2ED) was flown out within minutes of the response team’s arrival at the incident for fast situational awareness. Two minutes later, the Matrice 210 V2 drone platform was launched, giving detailed information with its sensor’s 30 times zooming ability. The Mavic gave responders their quick incident overlook, while the Matrice provided detailed, high-resolution images for thorough situational awareness. The combination saved more lives, protected firefighters, and shaved firefighting costs. 

As Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD) Battalion Chief Richard Fields, program coordinator, told the Board of Fire Commissioners in a March 2019 report, “Timely and accurate communication is essential in getting the right resources in place to mitigate an incident.”

Drones have gained a foothold in the sphere of public safety and forward looking government agencies are expanding their use in areas including environmental services, public works, transportation and rescue services. Download DJI’s whitepaper to explore the Best Practices For Deploying Drones At State And Local Government Level.

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