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Where mobility goes next

If we carry on addressing the need for mobility using the same paradigms and behaviours (such as car ownership and single person occupancy) that have existed since the early days of the Industrial Revolution we will doom ourselves to disaster, possibly even extinction, but says SIMON CARPENTER, Chief Technology Advisor at SAP Africa, Uber is an example of how networked technologies and digital platforms can change an industry and human behaviour at an exponential pace.

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It has been a long journey; one that started slowly and then accelerated at an exponential pace as we moved from the first wheel 5,000 years ago to the first steam-powered vehicle in the late 1700s to the internal combustion engine 159 years ago, the world’s first production motor car 27 years later (Karl Benz in 1886) and then very rapidly to flight, jet engines, gas turbines and today’s electric motors.

Along the way, the various modes of transport we have created have made incalculable contributions to socio-economic development and human progress. Apply your mind for just a moment and it’s hard to come up with a facet of modern life that is not impacted by some mode of transport or vehicular activity; whether it’s moving food from the farm to the fork, workers from the suburb to the workplace, tourists to their holiday destinations or patients to a hospital, transport and vehicles are inextricably involved in making society and economies work.

But, there is a downside to all this utility. As we stand at the tail-end of the industrial revolution and contemplate the future of humanity, it is clear that our love affair with the internal combustion engine has created some wicked problems.

The downside of mobility

Globally, the urban sprawl that personal mobility made possible in the first place has morphed into an unproductive commute in slow-moving traffic amplified by the fact that many of us travel alone in our cars. Today most people spend an increasingly frustrating chunk of their day and their disposable income simply getting to work. This problem is exacerbated in South Africa by the legacy of apartheid spatial planning which sequestered black people in townships far away from where they could find work. Most of those people are impoverished and therefore must spend a disproportionate and inequitable amount of time and money on their commutes.

The industrial-era paradigm of car ownership means we devote copious amounts of personal capital and social goods to acquire and house (i.e. park) vehicles that are used for a brief period each day. Those resources could be better used to address even more pressing concerns such as food security.

There is growing evidence to support the fact that vehicle emissions, both greenhouse gases and particulates, contribute not just to global warming but also the growing burden of chronic illnesses.  Recent studies have linked traffic pollution with reduced lung and cognitive function, and an increased risk of asthma, breast cancer, lung cancer, childhood leukaemia, heart disease, emergency hospital admissions and death.

And, of course there is the huge cost in lives and treasure associated with vehicle accidents. In South Africa alone 14,000 people die on the roads every year in accidents which cost our beleaguered economy ZAR 142 billion.

One thing is clear; if we carry on addressing the need for mobility using the same paradigms and behaviours (such as car ownership and single person occupancy) that have existed since the early days of the Industrial Revolution we will doom ourselves to disaster, possibly even extinction.

Reversing the challenges we have created will not be easy due to their multifarious, integrated nature and the many vested interests that will fight for the status quo. But, there is a solution at hand: Exponential Technologies, many of them digital in nature, accompanied by cultural, generational and societal shifts and innovative thinking offer us the opportunity to completely reshape how we move ourselves and our stuff around on this over-crowded little planet called Earth.

Exponential Technologies to the rescue

Uber is arguably the seminal example of how networked technologies and digital platforms can change an industry and human behaviour at an exponential pace. Uber’s system demonstrates the possibilities that emerge when exponential technologies such as smart mobile devices, networks and machine learning are synthesised with innovative thinking.

Another example is Nanjing City in China where authorities are using SAP’s real-time computing platform to gather data in real-time from cars, taxicabs, buses, traffic cameras and public transport users (via loyalty cards / tickets and mobile applications). Marrying this Big Data together (it amounts to some 23 billion individual records per year) provides deep insights into traffic patterns and trends. The beauty of the approach is that citizens get real time data that helps them plan their commutes better while city authorities use that same data to support short-term tactical decisions and long-term policy decisions such as where to invest in new roads or bus lanes.

These are great examples of how Exponential technologies such as IoT, Big Data, Artificial Intelligence and real-time computing can come together to solve complex problems in the real world. They are equally applicable in South Africa, where the apartheid regime’s spatial planning was such that black people were confined to townships on the outskirts of cities far from commercial and industrial centres. This legacy means that today the residents of these townships, often impoverished to begin with, must spend disproportionate amounts of time and disposable income to travel to their place of work. Exponential technologies could go a long way toward informing better policies from government and at the same time alleviating the daily travel woes of most of our population.

As the Digital Revolution takes hold we stand at a unique moment in human history with the opportunity to reshape our mobility systems for the better. Only we can choose – and only action will make it so.

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The Outer Worlds creates a twist on lone hero RPGs

With The Outer Worlds being released just under a month ago, BRYAN TURNER played it extensively to shell out exactly what makes it so special.

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The Outer Worlds makes it difficult to turn the console off. It took a while to pinpoint exactly what makes it so more-ish. Eventually, it became clear that it’s not one aspect, but rather several facets that make this game great. We’ve separated this game into its parts.

It comes as no surprise that Obsidian Entertainment, the makers of Fallout New Vegas and Star Wars: Knights of the Fallen Empire, was behind The Outer Worlds. It blends two distinct flavours of gaming – the chaos of Fallout with the intergalactic travel from Star Wars. This makes The Outer Worlds feel familiar but fresh at the same time.

At first, the game felt similar to the Fallout RPG series, particularly Fallout New Vegas, where the player is conveniently more powerful than the other players that exist in the world into which they venture. In Fallout, worlds are generally lawless, and players must navigate their character towards the alignment or “good or bad status” they want the player to be. The plot has scenarios that only a certain type of alignment can be, whether the character is the Restorer of Faith or the Architect of Doom.

The Outer Worlds follows a similar kind of style, but replaces the wasteland with a picture of the far future. Players start off as a passenger who gets unfrozen on a ship that holds a few of Earth’s brightest minds. The main campaign goal is to help unfreeze the other passengers. Instead, players are found in a hyper-capitalist world where workers are extremely disposable. Enormous companies go by names like “Auntie Cleos” but set extremely oppressive policies to keep their workers in line. From this, one can tell that dark humour is rife throughout this game.

These kinds of immersive RPGs, naturally, pack so many side quests into their world that it’s easy to forget the player’s main objective. These side quests are very reminiscent of the Fallout series, because they feature many ways of getting the job done, whether it be fighting, convincing or sneaking. One can even have companions, which present players with even more quest lines.

Not everything is a remix of other games. Companions have a direct effect on a character’s skill set, because the main characters are not always skilled in what players need. For example, we brought along Parvati in a quest where we needed more support with engineering skills, which is a skill we neglected to level up in the main character.

There’s also the ability to have a special combat skill, which becomes very handy in situations where there are many enemies around. Of course, it not only buys players time, but delivers more damage to opponents. Some special combat skills even stun non-targeted opponents, which really helps.

Gear and perks have also been designed from scratch, and it shows. It’s far more intuitive than we’ve seen in other RPGs so far and it makes for a much better experience that saves time on upgrading gear and perks so players can actually play the game.

I’m a huge fan of the Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System, or VATS, as Fallout players know it. The system allows players to target various limbs or parts of the opponent with precision aim, ensuring a better shot. While The Outer Worlds doesn’t use this, it features a slow-motion aiming system which can be considered an equivalent.

The travel system allows for travel from planet to planet, and they’re all distinctly mapped. While many are filled with enemies and marauders in empty wastelands, there are also major cities. The art style and careful attention to detail with the colour make this contrast distinguishable.

One of our biggest compliments is the completeness of this game. Many games have recently shipped glorified beta versions of their games because they’re pressed for time. The Outer Worlds, however, didn’t present a single bug within 20 hours of gameplay.

Overall, it’s a very enjoyable game, and fans of the Fallout, Star Wars RPGs, and Mass Effect series’ should definitely take a look at what The Outer Worlds has to offer.

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FNB takes shot at Bank Zero

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With expectation building for the launch of Bank Zero by legendary banker Michael Jordaan, his previous employer seems to have taken a strategic shot with the launch of its latest service. 

FNB has launched Easy Zero, a fully-fledged digital bank account with a card to allow customers to transact easily without paying a monthly fee. The mobile account was formerly known as eWallet eXtra.

The revamped digital account will now have a branded FNB bank card, providing customers with free card swipes, cost-effective transactional and ATM cash withdrawal fees. The card now gives customers more options to access their money. In addition, customers will also get free prepaid purchases and free cash deposits of up to R1,500 per month.

FNB Easy CEO Philani Potwana said: “We are aware of the day-to-day financial pressure that our consumers face, and Easy Zero is a direct response to their needs. The account is in line with our strategy to broaden financial inclusion to the unbanked and underbanked. We believe that the ability to operate the account digitally will allow customers to operate it at virtually no cost or minimal cost depending on transactional behaviour.

“We see Easy Zero being a digital bank account of choice for customers who do not have regular income or have limited banking needs. This is partly the reason debit orders are not allowed on the digital account as customers in this segment have limited debit orders. However, for those customers that have a need for debit orders they can still use our competitively priced Easy PAYU and Easy Smart Bundle accounts.”

Through Easy Zero, customers will be able to send money to anyone with a valid SA cellphone number, and skip the queues to pay people and accounts. Easy Zero account holders can also view their bank account balance and transaction history on their mobile phone at any time, from anywhere.

“The success of our digital account, with over 140,000 active customers, shows that anyone who owns a mobile phone can be banked in minutes using a mobile device,” says Potwana. “This showcases our ability to adapt to the ever-changing consumer landscape to cater for the needs of customers through platform innovation. ”

FNB is also offering Easy Zero digital account holders a toll-free number (0800 079 599) where easy customers can call for help on any of their banking needs. To open an Easy Zero account, dial *120*277# on a mobile phone and follow the prompts.

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