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iSmile – The Tech Report: 10 – 14 March 2014

MONDAY

By now you would have had a chance to digest Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan’s budget speech and hopefully made the appropriate adjustments to your own domestic budget.

In his speech, the minister caught the attention of the i-smile Report when he highlighted government’s past and planned future expenditure on broadband.

Fast cheap internet is fast becoming a basic need in society.

Government’s policy is to provide all South Africans with access to broadband services at 2.5% or less of the population’s average monthly income by 2020.

The Union Buildings also want to speed up our communications capabilities by leading us towards a universal average download speed of 100 mbps by 2030.

This all sounds wonderful at first. But an expert in this field says it’s nothing to get overly excited about.

That outspoken voice belongs to Simon Leps – the CEO of Fontera Digital Works.

He says the high local cost of broadband has become a barrier to start-up businesses, especially tech businesses that require online access at all times and affordable hosting.

And that means competitive-ness with UK start-ups is non-existent. Leps says the core of the problem is the current Telkom monopoly, which needs to be destroyed, as we clearly have the technical knowhow and resources.

Now minister Gordhan also raised the fact that several cities are bringing Wi-Fi connectivity to their citizens.

Which brings us to the City of Cape Town’s optic fibre network – featured by i-smile last year. It started in 2006 and is now almost complete.

Mayoral Committee Member for Corporate Services Dimitri Qually reminds us that it is essentially left-overs from the city’s new intranet system.

What this means is that Cape Town will soon be Africa’s most connected city, with a Wi-Fi mesh covering the entire Peninsula, allowing affordable internet access from just about anywhere.

Dimitri says they are going to make sure excess capacity benefits everybody.

Because you never know where that can lead.

Now if only we can work on getting the costs further down and the speeds up!

What we need is an innovation in the provision of telecommunications.

TUESDAY

For most of us Steve Austin was our introduction into the possibilities of bionic sciences.

It turns out that The Six Million Dollar Man better known as “Man van Staal” was not that farfetched after all.

i-smile has been closely monitoring developments in exoskeleton research and there have been some very encouraging signs of breakthroughs.

Bionic exoskeletons are essentially futuristic fully body crutches that will allow us to carry heavier loads, run faster and generally do things that are currently considered
super human.

Some say the logical conclusion will be Iron-Man-type suits.

Military applications for exoskeletons are obvious, but it is in the medical field that their use will serve humanity
best.

So promising is this technology that a Brazilian researcher has convinced the organisers of the World Cup to let a paralysed teenager do the ceremonial first ball kick, while strapped to an exoskeleton.

The suit will support his dead weight while reading his brain signals, allowing him to walk and kick the ball. This will be a breakthrough moment in this field.

The voice you heard earlier is that of Australian motivational speaker Amanda Boxtel, who suffered a paralysing spinal cord injury in a skiing accident 20 years ago.

She has become the spokesman person for 3D Systems, a company that has custom-made a bionic suit, which she tested publically in Hungary a few weeks ago.

The University of Denver’s Eythor Bender introduced her at a TED talk, where she stood up from her wheelchair.

Amanda is philosophical about the challenges that has brought her to this place, where she is able to walk again.

eLegs – as they are generically known – holds a lot of promise for frail people, who those living with physical disabilities, or who have lost limbs in accidents.

Amanda says it gives a new lease on life.

WEDNESDAY

The i-smile report loves innovations that focus on progressing education and that helps students and scholars achieve even more.

The LivingPages APPlication is just such an innovation.

Known as an augmented reality APP, it is aimed making the learning experience a lot more fun and interactive for Grade 10, 11 and 12s, by allowing them to literally interact with their textbooks.

Yep yet another tech term to come to terms with – Augmented Reality.

Let me explain – augmented reality is essentially just a fancy word for computer-generated elements such as sound, video or graphics that add to the reading experience.

So instead of just reading about the Coliseum and looking at 2-dimensional pics, AR may give you a tab that takes you on a 3D tour of the Coliseum.

Michael Goodman is from Via Afrika, the publishing house that owns the APP. He explains how it differs from other products out there.

APPs certainly are the way forward in just about any field, allowing consumers to customise their product experiences.

Michael says they were looking to develop a more engaging and meaningful learning experience.

Other examples include watching experiments being performed and exploring photos of interesting world destinations.

Unfortunately, the APP is limited and may not reach the pupils who need it the most.

But like with most technology, the limitations will be addressed by time and necessity.

Michael says the future of learning is clear.

The LivingPages APP has the added benefit of making learning fun and interesting, which will draw many more youngsters in.

For now, if you have the tools, you can access it online.

THURSDAY

Let’s start today’s i-smile Report with some stats.

Did you know that 65% of inner-metro trips are less than four kilometres?

And did you know that South Africa’s taxi industry carries an estimated 60% of the country’s commuters every day?

It is especially this latter stat that makes the multi-billion rand taxi industry such an appealing sector.

Consequently, it is an area that has captured the imagination of many entrepreneurs and disruptors eager to take a bite from that pie.

Enter MellowCabs, micro-taxi designed to bridge the gap between current public transport and your final destination.

It is the brainchild of Neil du Preez, who has come up with what is best described as a hybrid adult tricycle that wouldn’t be out of place in a futuristic movie.

They start out in a bright yellow colour and a very clever business plan to boot.

Neil says besides the fact that they had to go through great expense to make sure the vehicle gets the international roadworthy green light from the SABS, they also innovated on many other fronts.

Wait a minute – on board tablets? That is very cool!

Neil plans to use this to help drive down the costs of operating and using mellowcabs with smart advertising that pops up on screen when a user is near the supplier in
question.

Keep in mind that these vehicles are meant for short distances.

The MellowCab is battery-driven, but there is also a duel pedal-power option. The battery is easily replaced or recharged from just about any wall socket.

Neil is proud of the fact that everything about the mellowcabs is done in the WC.

At the moment, they are operating with flexible business plans, while developing the vehicle even more.

It has already won an international entrepreneurship award and garnered interest from several countries.

Watch out for the MellowCabs on our city streets very soon.

FRIDAY

How many people can say something like this…?

So like most other things, the internet is a product of that old saying “necessity is the mother of invention.”

That is the voice of Sir Tim Berners-Lee, also known as the father of the internet.

It was 25 years ago this week that he first proposed a new communication system between different computers often using different software.

He was working for The European Organization for Nuclear Research or CERN at the time. And as he explained earlier, scientists were often frustrated by an inability to access information stored on various computers in different formats.

Sir Tim proposed using hypertext to allow these computers to talk to each other.

You can use the same hypertext to go read up more about it, if you like.

Lately Tim has been arguing that he was simply in the right place at the right time.

He gave us the internet for free and these days he works on various global internet advancement and monitoring bodies.

In the last few weeks, and in the light of the Edward Snowden spying bombshell and subsequent surveillance issues, Tim has been calling for a manifesto – a digital bill if rights for the internet so that it doesn’t become something abusive and destructive.

And if the man who thought up the internet can do that then nobody can.

Just out of interest, South Africa wasn’t far behind the rest of the world, when it came to adopting the internet.

Two years after Tim’s proposal at CERN, the first IP connection was made between Rhodes University and the U.S.

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