Posts in "Technology"

Dump maths? Sounds like a race to the bottom

10X Investments called on South Africa’s Department of Basic Education this week to reconsider the “potentially catastrophic proposal” to remove mathematics as a pass requirement in the education system.

“Just when you thought we needed to raise our game in terms of maths literacy, the national education department starts a consultation on lowering the standards,” the asset manager said in a statement.

The education department confirmed earlier in the week that it had started a consultation on proposed amendments to pass requirements for pupils in grades 1 to 9, which would see mathematics removed as a compulsory pass requirement.

10X – which is disrupting the asset management sector by offering simple, low cost, index tracking products as alternatives to the confusing and expensive array of choices available in what has been described as “the most profitable sector ever” – warned this proposal risked exacerbating a number of simmering crises in the country.

“South Africa already has an unemployment crisis, a pensions crisis, a growing crisis of confidence in the education system,” it said.

“Basic mathematics is an essential building block in many of the sectors that are driving the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution. To fulfil the promise of this revolution, which is to use new technology to leapfrog many in the developed world, young people need to be given the tools essential to mastery of the technology. Without maths it is hard to imagine how this is possible,” the 10X statement continued.

“The world economy is becoming increasingly science-orientated, with less complex pursuits at risk of automation. Those countries that fall behind in maths will fall behind in global growth and global competitiveness. Those who lack maths skills immediately close the door on many future career choices.

“Besides, maths is not simply about mastering numeric skills. A maths pass is a certificate in problem solving, in logical thinking, in systematic thinking, in applied thinking, in deductive reasoning, in discipline, in application.

“These skills are not only essential for success in many careers, they are key to making good life choices. From balancing the household budget to choosing a pension provider who does not take the lion’s share of your savings, basic skills of reasoning are important.

“The future already looks bleak for thousands of graduates who are unable to find work.
“It looks bleak for the working population too. According to National Treasury only 6% of the population will have accumulated enough money to retire comfortably.

“Who will create jobs and opportunities for these young people? Who will support these old people? It is hard to imagine how having more graduates with lower competencies will help anyone.

“By improving results by merely dropping standards the Department of Education will be equipping a generation of South Africans with nothing but false hope.”
10X called on the Department of Basic Education to reconsider the proposal.

“Let’s avoid a race to the bottom,” the statement added.

The future: watching you from dashboard

dotcomsessionWatching demos by MTN and Huawei at the Africa.com conference in Cape Town this week was a wake-up call for at least one person in deep denial about the arrival of the future being some way off.

These demos suggested that the future is here and most of us are already actively in it. (Readers terrified about the perceived dangers of Big Brother-style surveillance might want to look away now.)

The two companies are showcasing objects that are connected to each other using Narrow Band Internet of Things (NB-IoT), a low power, wide area technology that can connect objects to the Internet of Things more efficiently as a result of a stronger and more penetrative signal.

MTN said in a statement: “Connecting these devices to the internet by means of a mobile network is where NB-IoT comes into its own.”

MTN and Huawei have signed an agreement to allow their collaboration “to happen at an exponential rate as both organisations are committed to an all connected Africa”.

Michael Ma

Huawei’s Michael Ma

Michael Ma, president of Huawei Cloud Core product line, said: “We are very pleased to announce our strategic co-operation with MTN in the IoT field … We look forward to a continuing close relationship with MTN to bring more IoT services to Africa.”

MTN and Huawei are showcasing a smart refrigerator, User-Based Insurance (UBI) and a smart water metering solution at the conference at the Cape Town International Convention Centre. Small sensors in these “things” (fridge, car, water meter) deliver data about their performance.

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MTN’s Alpheus Mangale

Alpheus Mangale, MTN South Africa’s chief enterprise business officer, said: “We are pleased and excited by the enabling role we are playing to usher an era of enhanced connectivity in Africa through the strategic partnerships we enter into and through the investments we have made in our expansive network infrastructure across the continent.

“The IoT market is expected to grow exponentially in the next few years, and MTN plans to be at the forefront of this digital revolution. We hope to enable how governments, enterprises and industries work,” he added.

The global IoT market is widely expected to be worth trillions of dollars by 2020, with 450 million cellular IoT connections in Africa alone.

Huawei and MTN plan to deploy this technology commercially next year, but people might be surprised to know how much some of it is already in action in everyday environments.

Like many other drivers, I am sure, I happily carry the gizmo/sensor/whatsit sent by my insurance company in my car, “keeping an eye on me” [chuckle] wherever I go.

It never really made me feel that I was under surveillance. That is just too much sci-fi, I thought. But then I attended a Huawei-MTN demo at Africa.com.

UBI allows insurance companies to access information collected by sensors connected via wifi, including location, driving behaviour and vehicle running.

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Cot-cam: It is not just Teddy that will be keeping an eye on baby in the Smart Home

Using big data technology to analyse and score driving behaviour, the insurer can adjust and optimise their offering for each driver. Good driving can be rewarded, and risky or dangerous driving can be “identified”, in the words of MTN. (I think they mean punished).

As I said earlier, this all seemed like so much mumbo jumbo to me until I saw the demo at Africa.com.

Some information relayed by the sensors in a car was obvious, such as time, distance and routes taken. Less obvious and significantly more revealing were examples of less than optimal driving, such as speeding or hazardous cornering, that were recorded and transmitted. We were shown the very sections of road where the infractions occurred.

This is great news for those excellent drivers who prefer to pay a premium directly related to the risk they represent, but less exciting to those individuals who like to sneak into the crowd sometimes and pay average bills.

It is hard, however, to imagine a downside to the smart water metering solution, which enables the automated collection of utility meter data over the cellular network.

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Africa.com attracts exhibitors and delegates from all over the world

Powered by the NB IoT technology developed by Huawei, smart water metering helps to cut the cost of manual meter reading as well as sending early warnings about leaks and other inefficiencies that otherwise might continue for years.

The smart refrigerator solution enables remote monitoring of fridges to help with stock control as well as electronic issues or even user issues, such as a door being left open, or maybe it was the seal on the door that was faulty.

africadotcomhall2Electronic inventory control and cold chain management have many more benefits for businesses, from manufacturers to bar owners, than ensuring a perfectly chilled beverage after a long journey, however well or badly one drives, although that is a good selling point.

– African News Agency (ANA)

 

A chic and shiny future

The future is here (almost) and it is fast and loose

devilsdigupResidents in at least one leafy suburban street (mine) in Cape Town are facing down noisy chaos this morning with the unannounced arrival of workmen to dig up the street and lay fibre.

Alerted by a lot of unusual noise in the street this Devils Peak resident went out to discover a large team of workmen digging up the pavements. They were laying fibre apparently.

The foreman helpfully added that if I wanted to go anywhere by car before midday I should move my car now.

I am all for us doing everything we can to propel our sleepy little village into in a fully wired future that is fast and cheap but can’t help wondering why we weren’t told about this … yesterday … last night?

digdrivewaysMy neighbour tells me that she knew it was coming but that seems to be largely because she “saw them getting closer”.

Another neighbour tells me that he received a flyer in his post box and a visit from someone informing him.

Well I am happy for them but I am a ratepayer and the City of Cape Town has my email address and phone number and I heard nothing. This all seems a little too fast and loose for my liking.

Talking fast and loose, let’s see how quickly Octotel and the City of Cape Town respond to my query about why I wasn’t warned.

And while we are at it can I just ask which one of you it was that mucked up the weather …

Transforming the African musical landscape

BozzaIn a stroke of creative mastery, a media company that is set to transform the music scene in Africa has helped a diverse group of African musicians create a hauntingly beautiful piece of music without ever meeting one another.

The nine artists, who were all carefully selected by the media company Bozza out of more than 200 applicants from across Africa, collaborated entirely over WhatsAPP.

From later this month Bozza will enable these and other artists to sell their music directly to fans using mobile wallets. This will allow music fans who don’t have internationally acceptable credit cards to buy content online. Importantly, it will also cut out the middleman, meaning artists will no longer get just a small share of the money their music generates.

The haunting beauty of the track, We Are One, which seamlessly combines languages, styles and traditions, belies the complexity of the process.

Last year Bozza put out a call for submissions for the project to its base of more than 10,000 African artists and the nine were chosen. They did not meet up, but created strong bonds through WhatsApp, chatting and sharing files as they collaborated to produce a single piece of music that represented them all.

The artists have totally different styles, from hip hop through rap and kwaito to traditional music. Some of the artists are up and coming in their countries with little experience or training, others are already established as icons in their worlds.

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He of the haunting voice: Zambian singer Mumba Yachi

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Mumba Yachi: folk-rooted music resonates strongly with his African roots

Zambian singer Mumba Yachi, for example, grew up steeped in musical tradition with a variety of influences. His mother sang in church while his father was a fan of various African artists, including Franco Luambo, Makaidi and Fela Kuti, as well as reggae legend Peter Tosh.

Determined to become an artist, Mumba learnt how to play the guitar at 16 and has gone on to become one of Zambia’s most beloved artists. His music has earned him recognition by the United Nations Development Programme.

Mumba’s music, folk-rooted with nods to Afro beat and world music, resonates strongly with his African roots and his values, from respect for nature to the importance of the continuing emancipation of women.

Bozza, which has established itself as a showcase for African talent, will be enabling artists like these to sell to fans anywhere in the world. Artists frequently get a raw deal, taking home a very small share of any revenues their music generates. This will soon change when Bozza introduces new payment options for consumers all over the world wanting to buy African music.

Bozza will this month roll out a service enabling artists to sell their content directly to fans, including those who do not have a credit card that is accepted internationally. They will be able to use mobile wallets, the predominant form of mobile payments in Africa, to buy content online.

The company has been working with international online services to sell the work of African artists, but said: “It often gets lost in the noise of the big names who dominate these marketplaces.”

Bozza’s online platform serves US and European markets, as well as African markets that demand contextually relevant content. Music is delivered to mobile devices including older feature phones. The company can distribute music and videos to any connected device, including more than 3,000 types of mobile phones, not just smartphones.

Emma Kaye, Bozza founder and chief executive, said: “Mobility has huge socio-economic, educational, commercial, societal and individual significance. Emerging economies have been hugely resourceful in using mobility in socio-economically important ways, to empower musicians, filmmakers and poets.

“By embracing mobility as a content delivery platform, emerging countries or continents can leapfrog developed economies, establishing a unique societal brand in a vibrant new industry.”

Bozza looks set to become the eBay for African music and film.

Listen to We Are One

Musician’s biographies:

PlayIconScarlet Mwana O Kondwela, singer, songwriter, poet, blogger and performing artist from Zambia

The oldest of seven sisters, Scarlet grew up in a musical family, with her father playing guitar and her mother singing. Her earliest musical memories are of the jazz her father used to listen to.

A linguistics and literature graduate, it was taking part in a reality talent search that started her on her journey with the mic. Her debut album, Unforgettably Yours, was released in 2012.

Scarlet is a youth ambassador in a programme run by the U.S. embassy in Zambia, a member of the Lusaka hub of the World Economic Forum’s Global Shapers initiative and a brand ambassador for the Kayula Childhood Cancer Foundation.

She describes her music as “an eclectic mix of jazz, soul, Afro beat and funk sitting on catchy melodies and carried by strong vocals … a yummy mixture that we like to call Afro funk music”.

PlayIconSeun Olata, composer and Afro fusion performing artist from Nigeria

Seun, the co-ordinator of ExTasI band, has built his musical canon within a variety of contexts, from dance through therapeutic to hymnal and choral.

Seun describes his band as “uncommon thinkers who are also recording artists, scholars and directors [who are] set on a phrenic and theosophic quest that stretches music beyond aural sensibility into the threshold of touch, sight, taste and smell”.

Albums to his credit are Home Made (2006), Farewell (2013) and Free Spot Show-Live (2015). Seun hosts a weekly live music show, the Free Spot Show, at Freedom Park in Lagos, Nigeria.

BlaQ2sdayBlaQ2sday, eclectic band from South Africa

Winners of MTV’s Kick Start My Band Into Gear competition 2015, BlaQ2sday switches confidently between genres, from jazz through trap and electro to hiphop, house, funk, rock and dubstep.

Founded by Tshitso Makunyane and Mkhulu Tshabalala in 2011, BlaQ2sday was later expanded to include Pitso Mofokeng, Molefe Sefatsa and Thabo Moralo, who started as the band’s photographer but is now a percussionist.

Dedicated to live performance, the band describes itself is “oozing inspiration to keep on creating what makes the world go round: music!”.

PlayIconMumba Yachi, folk singer from Zambia

Mumba Yachi grew up surrounded by music. His mother used to sing in church and his father was a fan of various African artists, including Franco Luambo, Makaidi and Fela Kuti, as well as reggae legend Peter Tosh.

Mumba, who learnt to play guitar at 16, was determined to be a musician. He is now one of Zambia’s most beloved artists and has been recognised by the United Nations Development Programme, having been selected to be a music ambassador for the HeForShe global campaign that encourages men and boys to be part of the cause to empower women.

Mumba’s music, rooted in folk with hints of Afro beat and world music, resonates strongly with his African roots and his strong sense of humanity, touching on topics close to his heart such as respect for nature to the emancipation of women.

PlayIconRheebongs, South African rapper and producer

Cape Town-based Rheebongs started writing and rapping in 2003 after falling in love with hip hop during his high school days.

The co-founder of M4M Records, an independent record label aimed at grooming and training upcoming artists from Cape Town, Rheebongs is considered as one of the pioneers of Spaza music.

Rheebongs was recognised by Bozza.mobi, which offered him a digital distribution deal, making him one of the first hip hop artists from Cape Town to release music digitally.

PlayIconMaureen Lupo Lilanda, Zambian Afro jazz singer and songwriter

Maureen, who started her musical career as a teenager, has 35 years in the music industry and five albums to her name.

She is backed by Ashilile, a band of six instrumentalists that plays a fusion of traditional Zambian and western music.

Maureen has collaborated with and shared stages with a wide array of artists, from the Malmo Symphony of Sweden to Baaba Mal of Senegal, as well as Seal.

Among many awards and accolades, Maureen has won CEO Africa’s Most Influential Women Awards for Arts in Zambia and the SADC region.

BuntuJobelaBuntu Jobela, South African singer

Buntu Jobela, pictured, who hails from Cape Town, is a self-taught artist who has developed his work from spoken word to hip hop.

This very talented young man is gaining a significant following with his powerful work, which is layered with thought and meaning.

Not a lot is known about him but he is certainly building a following.

This talented young man is tipped is one to watch!

PlayIconTeasar, Jamaican-born Nigerian ‘musical hustler’

Teasar was born in Jamaica to Nigerian parents, which makes for a rich combination of musical influences.

The self-taught artist started making music at 11. Now, as the Nigerians say, he hustles his way in the music scene and works with great sound engineers and producers, creating music played in clubs.

PlayIconNgoma, hip hop artist from Cameroon

The hip hop recording artist and songwriter Atanga Schneider Ngomah aka Ngoma’s love for music began at a very young age, his parents and four siblings providing an early audience.

His unique sound combines local sounds from the 90s with contemporary urban style, with rap in four languages – English, French, ‘Pidgin’ English and Ngemba (his native tongue) – adding to the mix.

– African News Agency (ANA)

PowerTurtle hatches a plan to power school

 SolarTurtleAn innovative, mini-power station, the PowerTurtle, will be launched at a primary school in an informal settlement in Gauteng on March 2, possibly heralding the start of a revolution in bringing power to schools that are off the grid.

The power station in a container will officially be launched at Pheasant Folly Primary School in Palm Ridge.

The PowerTurtle, which evolved from the SolarTurtle launched in the Eastern Cape last year, offers enhanced security and ease of operation on the earlier model.

Morning sunshine triggers the solar panels to roll out, with an an especially engineered rail system allowing the unit to unfold in minutes. In the evening the solar panels slide back into the reinforced 6 metre shipping container.

Representatives from the president’s office, the Gauteng province, the department of energy, the department of education and the Independent Power Producer (IPP) Office will be on hand to officially inaugurate the PowerTurtle at the school.

The school could previously access power only through generators, which cost R2,000 a week to fuel.

SolarTurtleJames and Tina

South African Energy Minister Tina Joemat-Peterson presents James van der Walt with the initial cheque EnergyNet gave in support of the project

James van der Walt of Ugesi Gold and the developer of SolarTurtle, said: “PowerTurtle is the first step towards secure, reliable and sustainable electricity for schools like Pheasant Folly Primary School.

“The unique PowaPod design allows a series of solar panels to unfold from the confines of a secure 6m shipping container, and back again at night.

“By launching the PowerTurtle in Palm Ridge we hope to show the potential of not only secure electricity for the school, but an energy solution for the whole community,” said Van der Walt, adding that he wanted to thank AMSolar and RexiVista for helping to “bring the PowerTurtle to life”.

Just in the Gauteng region of South Africa, an estimated 2,500 off-grid schools, typically located in informal settlements, are desperately in need of power.

Vandalism and theft have severely hampered the roll out of solar power in the past. The PowerTurtle’s unique security features mean the panels cannot be easily stolen or damaged.

The PowerTurtle at Pheasant Folly Primary School is the first investment of the ‘Not Just Talking Fund for Energy Access’, launched by EnergyNet Ltd and its advisors, Impact Brands Africa, Fieldstone and ERM, in October last year. The project is being launched in partnership with the IPP Office of South Africa and Minister for Energy Tina Joemat-Pettersson.

The ‘Not Just Talking Fund for Energy Access’ is designed to provide an alternative financing solution for small-scale and beyond-the-grid projects across Africa, especially in areas of healthcare, education and female empowerment.

In October 2015 we wrote …

A local off-grid power station that looks a little like a UFO selling electricity by the bottle, and a computer game designed to teach the community how to run it as a business. Does that sound like life in a sci-fi movie or in the rural Eastern Cape to you?

The first SolarTurtle, a container with fold-away solar panels that will open a world of micro business opportunities for rural communities, hatched (or landed, perhaps) at a school deep in the rural Eastern Cape in June. A computer game teaching people who are not on the power grid how to run the solar unit as a business is still in James van der Walt’s head … but groundbreaking ideas germinated there tend to make it to reality.

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James van der Walt

Van der Walt is a 30-something mechanical engineer and software programmer who returned to South Africa a few years ago after living and working abroad for seven years with ideas to start a business that would make a difference. He had found himself working in the financial sector in Ireland after following an Irish lady home one day (all the way to Galway). Like so many in his generation, he found himself searching for meaning in his career beyond work, spend, save, retire.

plugging in the powerHis search for meaning led via a long and winding road to the Eastern Cape where today members of a rural community take large recycled plastic containers to a solar station to buy their energy by the bottle. The plastic bottles have been turned into rechargeable batteries that are charged during the daylight hours to be taken home in the evening to add light, heat, sound and etc to people’s lives. The bottles, holding traditional rechargeable batteries and with their lid transformed into a socket, are easy to carry.

Van der Walt remembers sitting on a ferry to the Aran Islands off the west coast of Ireland one day looking at a steel plaque noting that the vessel that felt like it was being tossed about lightly on the sea weighed 40,000 tons. That must take a lot of energy, he thought. Add to that two other current hot topics that were on his mind: the financial crisis, which had put a lot of people out of work, and the energy crisis facing most countries. It was at that confluence, he says, that the idea for the SolarTurtle was born.

Then it wasn’t much more than a ray of hope that was to grow into the SolarTurtle. For reasons that are both simple and complicated, Van der Walt moved from Ireland to New Zealand. It was here that he had his next eureka moment after thinking, “There seem to be no problems here; this might not be the right place for me to settle if I want to make a difference in the world.”
All the while the ideas from that day on the ferry were rolling about in his head and an idea started forming around harnessing the power of nature to meet some of the obvious needs of man. Van der Walt started making enquiries about moving back to South Africa and the next thing you know he was here working on a business plan. It was then that a friend suggested he contact universities for help with research. He contacted the Centre for Renewable and Sustainable Energy Studies at Stellenbosch University and the response was so positive that he ended up doing a masters in mechanical engineering at the school.

“This not only gave me the opportunity to study the problems faced by rural electrification first hand, but also to have access to some of the country’s leading experts on renewable energy and mechanical design,” says Van der Walt, who says he couldn’t have done it without the support of the school and particularly Professor Wikus van Niekerk.

Once he had the support of the university Van der Walt started to transform his ideas into action. Visiting communities who had no access to power, he quickly discovered that one of the main problems with rolling out a solar solution was theft and vandalism. More often than not, solar panels were stolen, with travelling syndicates of thieves disappearing in the night with equipment installed in remote areas.

SolarTurtleCharging

Power point: a local charges her phone in the Solar Turtle

It was then that Van der Walt realised that this was why shipping containers were being used as spaza shops. Another eureka moment, another stage in the plan. With some financial help from the South African National Energy Development Institute, the Technology Innovation Agency and the Department of Science and Technology, Van der Walt got his idea off the ground and on to the ground, with the first SolarTurtle starting to sell clean electricity at Ngangonwandle High School on June 15.

Ngangonwandle, 50km from Coffee Bay, is the largest school in the district with more than 2,000 learners, none of whom had electricity at home. Potential customers, you might say, making for a viable business proposition, in Van der Walt’s words. The local community was delighted to be introduced to the concept of buying electricity by the bottle.

The need for electricity in the region is dire, says Van der Walt. As if to prove the point, he says, a while after the unit launched, Eskom cut off the whole region’s power for two days due to problems at the local substation. During this time the SolarTurtle was the only place people in the wider area could get electricity and more than R2,500 worth of trade was done at the unit. “We could not have asked for a better opening day gift,” says Van der Walt.

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Batteries recharging

Another gift has been the entrepreneur who runs the first SolarTurtle, a local woman, Lungelwa Tyali, who recently moved back to her ancestral home after working as an executive in Johannesburg for many years.

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Buzz: a barber at work at the Solar Turtle

In addition to selling clean power, she is trying many things to make her business work, for example an internet cafe, offering refrigeration services, as well as allowing a barber to set up shop. One can only imagine the opportunities for sales of goods, services and entertainment.

But what about the computer game to teach people how to run the business, I hear you wonder. When I suggested that it seems obvious that demand for the SolarTurtle units would soon outstrip supply, Van der Walt tells me that one of the big problems with rolling these units out is training people how to make a success of them. He stresses that this is not a hand-out, it is a business opportunity.

There are possibilities of tie-ups with international organisations and companies that are producing energy under the country’s Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme, but Van der Walt’s real focus now seems to be making the units work as micro-franchises, viable individual businesses that are supplying clean energy to their communities.

The software engineer in Van der Walt takes over here and asks me if I know what gamification is. He tells me he is going to write a software programme, a game, where people will “play the business”. Real life situations of a SolarTurtle owner will be simulated in the game, which people will play as a way of learning what is required. The game will also give Van der Walt a way of measuring people’s potential and suitability.

Van der Walt came up with this idea because, he says, people are less motivated by the idea of money than the immediate gratification of a computer game, especially people who have been off the grid for most of their lives. Now that sounds like a lovely and empowering game! – African News Agency

 

Sexy, cheap, useful

WooCameraVisitors to Africa.com at the CTICC in Cape Town this week hoping to do some Christmas shopping might have been disappointed. Unless they were shopping for next Christmas, with many of the gadgets being futuristic in more ways than one.

Lots of the products being showcased at the event from November 16-19 are yet to be launched in South Africa; others, such as the Huawei’s smart home system, are still under development.
South African consumers might not yet be able to get their hands on all the stylish French cellphones and sexy Spanish cameras seen at Africa.com, but shoppers in Soweto will be able to get their hands on a little piece of the future when the Sunstream mobile charger is launched in a Vodacom store there next week.

With a recommended retail price of R199 we can expect this handy little gadget to turn up in many a Christmas stocking … or Santa could just drop it down the chimney.

Its creator John Anderson, whose background is in the solar panel industry, said he set out to make this phone charger as tough as roof-top solar roof panels.

SunStream

Perfect for the beach: Sunstream solar phone charger will still work when submerged in water

Not wanting to dip into any debate about youngsters and mobile phones, I will just mention that this piece of equipment could be handled by even the most destructively determined of toddlers, it can even be immersed in water.

The charger that transforms light instantly into energy is quite a looker too. Anderson, who hails from Colorado in the US, said he knew that to get the attention of the young and hip, who are usually the early adopters of new technology, it had to be good looking, hence the funky primary colours.

Woo, from Spain, is another company that was at Africa.com showcasing useful, good looking and affordable gadgets that will soon be available in South Africa.

These gadgets will appeal not only to young consumers who demand a lot of function and at least some form; nostalgic shoppers will likely also be wooed by the classic style of the company’s AC11 and AC20 cameras. Waterproof to up to 60m, the cameras give 4k resolution despite fitting in the palm of a hand.

Woo sells basic technology at affordable prices, something many South African consumers have little experience of. Mobile phones and small laptops which become tablets when you remove the keyboard completed the Woo offering at Africa.com.

With most items on show retailing for around US $100-120, the Madrid-based company will be well placed to grab a chunk of the middle market when it starts selling products in South Africa hopefully as soon as early next year.

Another European company showing at Africa.com in advance of plans to bring their products to South Africa was Wiko, the French mobile phone company.

Unsurprisingly the company that claims to be France’s second most popular telephone brand is very high on style. The phones are very slim and available in soft, luxurious colours one would normally expect to see in silk scarves. The company’s motto is You don’t like the game? Change it.

And so visitors to Africa.com live in hope for this Christmas … and the one after. – African News Agency

A chic and shiny future

The future is in your hands, says Capo Cassidy, just be careful of those fingerprints

Mobile television

A viewer scans a QR code to buy featured products online or to transfer the show she is watching to her mobile screen

NOVEMBER 2015:

Capetonians are getting a peek into the future at Africa.com at the CTICC from November 17-19, and it is all chic and shiny … except for those little fingerprints, which seem to be a recurring hazard when life is run from a touchscreen.

But never fear, you will probably see past any number of little fingerprints once you experience the 4k 65 inch (or, in layman’s terms, enormous, extraordinarily high definition) television screen being demonstrated by Chinese technology company Huawei at Africa.com.

The digital economy conference is being billed as “the biggest and best tech event in Africa that gathers together senior decision-makers from the entire digital ecosystem”.

Impressive as the combination of size and minute detail is, the television is really brought to life by a set-top box, Huawei’s Smart Home Gateway, which does a lot more than decode television signals. It does that, of course, but it also turns the lounge into a personal theatre, home surveillance centre, social media hub and shopping mall.

But let’s backtrack a little. Picture yourself pulling into the driveway after a long day of work. Your arrival will possibly activate the first of many sensors in and around the home that will send information and instructions to various devices to predict your actions and expectations and make surroundings safe, convenient and comfortable.

HuaweiRobotOpening the door to your fully connected household – or smart home, as Huawei calls the suite of devices networked wirelessly – will trigger a sensor that switches on lights, even before your robot housekeeper has a chance to start its endearing little welcome home dance. A sensor on the door may also send a text message or a voice call to your phone to alert you that the front door has been opened since the smart home is focused on security as well as convenience and entertainment.

The 007s among us who like high tech defence systems will probably also love the fact that the coffee table is a mini mission control with a slick touch screen that controls a lot more than the television. Swipe left or right, tap here and there, and you can do a variety of things you would normally walk around and do to set the scene … except, as far as I can tell, pour a martini (shaken not stirred). You can draw the curtains, change the mood of the lighting, choose a television station, play music, even do some online shopping.

All devices are networked via the home’s wireless system so of course you can check your mail or shop online on the big screen, or watch a television programme on your phone. Don’t be ridiculous, I hear you cry, we have that enormous beauty of a screen.

But think of those times when someone in the family is watching TV at a moment when others need them out of the room. How often have you wished you could just carry the show with you, like take-away TV or TV-on-the-go. Well now you can with Huawei’s set-top box. Press a button on the coffee table and a QR code for that programme will appear on screen. Scan that code with your phone (ie take a photo of it) and voila the programme starts running on your phone at exactly the point you were at on the big screen. It almost looks like the programme slides off the TV screen and on to your phone and keeps running.

Another feature that is great when a number of people share a space is that the set-top box creates and saves various different viewing and surfing profiles. If you are worried about Big Brother watching you, you might not like the idea of the set top box using facial recognition software to identify who is watching and taking a cue from this.

But if you are all about convenience and don’t fear being spied on by a computer you will love the fact that once you have been recognised as the viewer all your favourites plus your surfing history will be loaded. This will save you the irritation of having to scroll through someone else’s preferences and quite possibly save some people a few blushes when changing between viewers.

So how do we get our hands (and fingerprints) on it?

A spokesman for Huawei, which has operations in more than 150 countries in the world, including many in Africa, told ANA on Wednesday: “We’ve done some trials with this product with customers, but never commercially used it.

“For commercial use in Africa, I’m afraid we have to wait for a while until the network problems are sorted out … if we want to play live-streaming 4k video at home, we need a network with 50-60M bandwidth. When we have optical fibre to our homes, we can have smart homes.”

Like a lot of the tech on show at Africa.com Huawei’s smart home it’s not exactly ready to be rolled out en masse in the suburbs but there is no harm in having a peek into the future.
– African News Agency