High-tech shack brings solar power to slums

January 11, 2013 by  
Filed under IT Planning, IT Projects, IT Trends

The iShack is a high-tech shack developed by the University of Stellenbosch, designed to provide slum dwellers in South Africa with a reliable source of electricity and protection from extreme temperatures.

Discussion:  This iShack, or improved shack, is equipped with a solar panel that can power lights and a mobile phone charger, and may soon change the windswept slums that house 62% of the urban population in Sub-Saharan Africa.  This dwelling is intended to raise the living standards of slum residents while improving their access to electricity and protecting them from extreme temperatures in an evironmentally friendly way.  A slum is charachterized by deplorable living conditions, a feeling of insecurity and inadequate infrastructure for basic energy, sanitation and water services.  Shacks are becoming the new norm, and this project, which recently received a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, provides a cost-effective solution.

Source:  CNN News

Date:  January 8, 2013

Link:  http://www.cnn.com/2013/01/08/tech/innovation/ishack-slums-south-africa/index.html

Discussion Questions:

  • Why are some researchers focusing on short-term solutions to the housing crisis in South Africa rather than looking ahead for a long-term solution?
  • Why is supporting a cell phone charger an important improvement to slum living?

London to test ‘smart city’ operating system

One of Greenwich peninsula's biggest landmarks is the O2 building

Discussion:  In a neighborhood in London, there is an operating system being tested that will connect utilities and services with citizens.  The ‘smart city’, located in the Greenwich peninsula, is testing an operating systems that aims to connect services such as water, transport, and energy with the people who live in the area.  Smart lamp posts will monitor traffic and become brighter when they recognize a car coming their way and smart heating systems will regulate internal temperatures in buildings to save energy.  As 70% of the world’s population is expected to live in cities by 2050, this new technology is critical to help regenerate urban spaces to make them more efficient and sustainable in the future.

Source:  BBC News

Date:  May 4, 2012

Link:  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-17940797

Discussion Questions:

  • Why is this new operating system superior to the traditional system in place today?
  • With this operating system in place, what would happen if connectivity between elements fails?

Africa’s business technology revolution gathers pace

Kariuki Gathitu is one of a new breed of Kenyan technology entrepreneurs

Discussion: African economies are known for commodities like oil and gas, but a tech revolution is gathering speed and helping to change lives across the continent.  From fighting fake medicines to developing cutting edge telescopes, a new generation of innovators is putting Africa on the technology world map.

Source: BBC News

Date: May 23, 2011

Link: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/13505966

Question for discussion:

  • Why are mobile devices playing a much bigger role than the PC in Africa’s technology revolution?

Are You Following a Bot?

"There's a lot of potential for a lot of evil here, but there's also a lot of potential for a lot of good."

Discussion: Can one person controlling an identity, or group of identities, really shape social architecture?  Apparently, yes.  Web Ecology Project recently organized a two-week social-engineering experiment to determine if it is possible to not only infiltrate social networks, but also to influence them on a large scale.  Three teams created “social bots,” or fake identities, to mimic human conversation on Twitter in order to pick up real users.  The analysis: social bots can reach thousands of people and obtain a trove of personal information about their lives, allowing for more-targeted social ‘hacks’ than ever before.

Source: theAtlantic.com

Date: May 2011

Link: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2011/05/are-you-following-a-bot/8448/

Questions for discussion:

  • Is an expectation of privacy in online social media unrealistic?  Do we simply have to accept the fact that our personal data will possibly be collected if we chose to share it on the web?
  • Hwang believes there is equally potential for good as there is for evil with social bots.  Is online deceit acceptable if it brings together pro-democracy activists or promotes healthy habits?


Startup mating rituals 101

Discussion: TechStarsNY, one of the most successful tech incubators in the country, recently hosted Demo Day, a ritual that allows young startups to strut their stuff in front of venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, and the media.  Illuminated through a series of slides or videos, the startup founder begins with a problem – i.e. digital billboards aren’t nearly good enough at adjusting their ads – then a solution, a demo, how they plan to make money, and finally, the pitch for funding.  At the end of the day some learn that their startup is funded, and others regroup for a longer season of pitching.  But they all soon have to find their own office space to make room for a new crop of tech heads to “incubate.”

Source: CNN.com

Date: April 15, 2011

Link: http://tech.fortune.cnn.com/2011/04/15/startup-mating-rituals-101/

Questions for discussion:

  • Why do the startups show recordings of their product in action as opposed to giving a live demonstration?
  • Discuss the notion that a tech “incubator” like TechStars NY is tantamount to getting a college degree from Harvard or MIT.


The tiny cube that could cut your cell phone bill

LightRadio is small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, but Alcatel-Lucent designed it to fix a big problem.

Discussion: The size of a Rubik’s cube but packed with all the components of a cell phone tower, lightRadio is a tiny device tasked with solving an enormous problem.  With mobile data usage expected to grow 30 fold in the next five years, lightRadio may be able to help wireless carriers keep pace using a combination of miniaturization and cloud technology.  Stacked like Lego blocks in urban areas or atop existing cell towers in rural areas, these power-sipping cubes can help cut carriers’ operating costs in half.

Source: CNNMoney.com

Date: March 21, 2011

Link: http://money.cnn.com/2011/03/21/technology/light_radio/index.htm

Questions for discussion:

  • How does lightRadio address the problem of inefficient, separate antennas for 2G, 3G, and 4G networks?
  • What three factors make lightRadio a very attractive prospect for wireless carriers?


Marketers embracing QR codes, for better or worse

Discussion: Thanks to America’s growing addiction to smartphones, QR, or Quick Response, codes are showing up in more and more places: movie posters, storefront displays, magazine ads, even New York’s Time Square.  After downloading a QR scanning app, smartphone users can link to videos, images, discount coupons, or even a virtual tour of real estate property.  But marketing experts are quick to point out that this interactive tool is only effective if the QR code leads the consumer to something surprising, worthwhile, and of significant value.

Source: CNN.com

Date: March 29, 2011

Link: http://www.cnn.com/2011/TECH/mobile/03/28/qr.codes.marketing/index.html

Questions for discussion:

  • What is the target audience of QR codes and how does that affect the types of products marketed via QR codes?
  • Can an ill-conceived QR code promotion cause more harm than good to a brand?

Market research and the primitive mind of the consumer

A smartphone monitors and decodes a person's facial expressions as either "positive" or "negative"

Discussion: Manual techniques of market research require hours of viewing slow motion video and logging mind-numbing facial expressions, a labor-intensive process that greatly limits the number of people that can be tested.  But new technology is replacing these traditional techniques with computerized emotion recognition that can analyze thousands of faces at the same time.  If this technology really can decipher the intricacies of human emotion, the study sample size could potentially go from 30 people in a few counties to half a billion worldwide.

Source: BBC News

Date: March 6, 2011

Link: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-12581446

Question for discussion:

  • Discuss the author’s “small caveat”: you must be prepared to believe that computers can decipher the intricacies of human emotion.

Inside Microsoft: Innovation still on the menu

Discussion: If you think of Microsoft as big, sleepy and dull, their current R&D is certainly trying to prove otherwise.  Building on the success of the Xbox Kinect system, which racked up 8 million in sales in its first 60 days, Microsoft is developing natural user interfaces, a shift from the old graphical user interface.  “The computer is more like us – it sees, it listens, it speaks, it understands, it even seeks to do things on our behalf,” says Craig Mundie, Microsoft research chief.  Convinced that long-term research investment and a mastery of underlying technologies is a strategy that will prevail, Microsoft is hoping that the coming years will produce more Kinects and fewer tablet PCs.

Source: BBC News

Date: February 27, 2011

Link: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-12570045

Questions for discussion:

  • What is the financial risk of developing expensive technologies for the future versus focusing on the customer experience now (perhaps one of the main differences between Microsoft and Apple in terms of strategy)?
  • Is Microsoft putting too much stock in video game technology or will this new kind of user experience appeal to the masses?

Google’s Vint Cerf on web future

Discussion: Vint Cerf, who helped design the architecture that the Internet is built on, is now the chief evangelist at Google.  In an interview with CNN, Cerf describes the Internet as a “giant tent, under which you can do almost anything you can imagine and program.”  Cerf praises the Egyptian people for using the Internet to express themselves in a way that had a big impact, but adds that in an open Internet environment, you don’t have to stir a revolution to have an effect.  And the topic that excites Cerf the most?  Internet interplanetary service, a project he has been working on with NASA since 1998.

Source: CNN.com

Date: February 25, 2011

Link: http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/tech/2011/02/24/ns.google.vp.cerf.cnn

Questions for discussion:

  • What are the cultural and diplomatic implications of an Internet interplanetary service?
  • Discuss Cerf’s comment that Google must try to serve China just as hard as they try to serve other markets.

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