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Roads Without Drivers

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Nuro

Imagine putting your six-year-old child in a car and telling it to take her to school by a push of a button. It is the future and may be coming sooner than you think.

$87 billion. That’s how much the driverless car market is estimated to be worth by 2030, according to Lux Research, a research and advisory company that specializes in technology and innovation.

It will create the new wave of billionaires and profitable businesses. Worldwide, the race has already begun.

Among the players is General Motors, which invested $1 billion in a self-driving car start-up in 2016; Baidu, a Chinese internet company which launched a $1.5-billion fund dedicated to autonomous-car development; there was a $680-million Uber deal to buy Otto, an autonomous trucking company; and $15 billion was spent by Intel deal to buy Israel’s Mobileye, which makes self-driving sensors and software.

“I am very excited about the era of autonomous cars which will bring down accidents significantly, given that about a third of crashes on US highways, for instance, is due to driver distraction… The car of the future is electrified, autonomous, shared, connected and yearly updated,” says Toby Shapshak, Editor-in-chief at Stuff magazine.

The big question is: how soon are they coming and how will they work?

According to Wayne McCurrie, a Senior Portfolio Manager at Ashburton Investments, autonomous cars are on their way but not quite as people think. He says you will not sit or sleep in the car and be ferried to your destination.

“The driver will still ultimately be in control but not actually drive the car. You will almost be monitoring the system much like an aircraft pilot when the plane is on autopilot,” says McCurrie.

Transportation writer Paris Marx agrees. He says vehicles will have semi-autonomous features, meaning they’ll be able to drive themselves in some limited situations.

Lux Research’s report, Set Autopilot for Profits: Capitalizing on the $87 Billion Self-driving Car Opportunity, also found vehicles with features such as adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning and collision avoidance braking, will account for 92% of autonomous vehicles in 2030 and no fully autonomous car will hit the market.

“Today the autonomous vehicle value chain is already starting to take root, and it involves many players new to the industry. Sensor hardware specialists, like Velodyne LiDAR, are developing products with unprecedented resolution; software and big-data powerhouses, like IBM and Google, are striking up partnerships; and even mapping and connectivity experts, like Nokia and Cisco, are throwing their hats into the ring,” says Cosmin Laslau, Director of Research Products at Lux Research.

According to Laslau, the move to autonomous vehicles will initially be led by the United States and Europe, but China will grow rapidly to claim a 35% share of the 120 million cars sold in 2030, accounting for revenues of $24 billion, against $21 billion for the US market and $20 billion for Europe.

READ MORE: Push For Self-Driving Car Rules Overlooks Lack Of Federal Expertise In AI Tech

As exciting as the prospects might be, there are many concerns.

There have been violent uproars in some parts of Africa, like South Africa and Kenya, with the introduction of Uber. One concern is driverless cars will fuel the mounting battles with the taxi industry, especially since companies like Uber, already in competition with taxis, are developing their own driverless cars.

“I hope they won’t bring these driverless buses and taxis because I may end up jobless. I am not qualified to do any other job and obviously people will prefer driverless cars because maybe computers are [smarter],” says taxi driver Mthokozisi Nkabinde.

Statistics South Africa, in its National Household Travel Survey, found taxis are the main source of transport for most households at 41.6%. According to the South African National Taxi Council, the taxi industry employs more than 600,000 people and transports about 15 million commuters per day.

“There are no jobs in this country and when they take away the only way we make money we will mobilize and fight with the government and make sure they fix it,” says Nkabinde.

Another question is how these cars will be brought into the market.

In South Africa, people are divided. In a recent study by accounting and consulting firm, Deloitte, half of consumers prefer tech companies while the rest choose traditional car manufactures. The study also found 47% of consumers want limited self-driving technology and 39% prefer fully self-driving cars.

“Tech companies tend to want to move toward a fleet model, where people wouldn’t own their own vehicles, but would use an app to request a vehicle on demand, similar to what Uber already offers; while traditional automotive companies think that people will still want to own their own self-driving cars and fleets will just be another option,” says Marx.

Overall acceptance of autonomous technology keeps growing.

“Those who settle for a reactive mindset, rather than preparing for the long term, will be at greater risk as consumer acceptance for autonomous technology further accelerates,” says Craig Giffi, Vice Chairman at Deloitte, in a press statement.

Many start-ups are working towards this future. One of them is Nuro, a company that has found a niche in self-driving vehicles designed to transform local commerce.

Nuro founders Dave Ferguson and Jiajun Zhu (Photo supplied)

Former engineers from Google’s self-driving car project, Dave Ferguson and Jiajun Zhu, swapped the opportunity to make self-driving passenger cars for goods delivery services. In January, they raised $92 million to launch Nuro.

“We started Nuro to make products that will have a massive impact on the things we do every day. Our world-class software, hardware, and product teams have spent the past 18 months applying their expertise to deliver on this mission. The result is a self-driving vehicle designed to run your errands for you. It is poised to change the way that businesses interact with their local customers,” says Ferguson, in a statement made available to FORBES AFRICA.

Nuro’s new vehicle is designed specifically to move goods between and among businesses, neighbourhoods and homes. The fully autonomous vehicle is unmanned and about half the width of a passenger car.

“We aspire to lead a new wave of robotics applications that make life easier for everyone and give us more time to do things we love. We are living in extraordinary times where advancements in robotics, artificial intelligence and computer vision are making it possible to imagine products and services that could not have existed just 10 years ago,” says Zhu.

Similar to the Nuro vehicle, the future driverless cars will be furnished with cameras, radar and light detection, and ranging sensors to help them visualize and map their surroundings. All of this data will then be processed by an on-board computer using artificial intelligence to instruct the vehicle where and how to drive and whether it needs to react to any of its surroundings, such as a vehicle that hasn’t obeyed a stop light or a child running into the street.

READ MORE: Roadblock: Elon Musk’s Net Worth Drops $800 Million In A Day

There are challenges to the inception of driverless cars though.

Elon Musk’s Tesla, for example, is one of the few companies testing autonomous vehicles and its vehicle was involved in a fatal accident. An investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board in the US found that the feature installed in the car should have required the driver to have his hands on the steering wheel at all times and should have only worked in restricted areas. Tesla did not have these limitations in its software, so the driver used it for extended periods of time while not paying attention to the road. The vehicle eventually hit a truck and killed the man behind the Tesla’s wheel.

“Another challenge is that bad weather can obstruct or interfere with some of the sensors, which would then result in the vehicle’s computer having an incomplete picture of its surroundings, which could impair its ability to make the right driving decisions,” says Marx.

Paris Marx (Photo supplied)

Urban areas might also be a problem. In the United States, according to Marx, there are only a few self-driving vehicle services open to the public, and they are exclusive to suburban areas with wide roads and not much traffic in southern states like Arizona and Florida, where the weather is nearly always clear and sunny. Those are the kinds of areas where self-driving cars will stay for a while.

Safety concerns also need to be resolved.

“[Driverless cars] have been observed running red lights, going the wrong way down one-way streets, and recent reports show that they have trouble detecting bicycles and putting cyclists at risk. Most companies working on self-driving cars are being cautious about testing the vehicles and putting them in situations where they could get in accidents, but there are some, like Tesla and Uber, that seem to be taking more risks. A lot of stories have been published about the accidents that Uber’s vehicles have gotten into, the times they’ve run red lights, and how they ignored bike lanes in San Francisco,” says Marx.

Marx adds that it’s unlikely that autonomous cars will become common in American or European cities in the next five years because many cities are placing restrictions on vehicle use to give priority to bicycles and to turn streets into public spaces.

“If they become common in any part of the African continent, it would likely be in wealthier suburbs or gated communities,” he says.

Driverless vehicles are presented as the solution to traffic congestion that cities all over the world are facing but, according to Marx, they’re unlikely to make a big difference.

“Simply moving people from regular cars to self-driving cars doesn’t reduce the amount of space being taken up by those vehicles, and it’s likely that if the cost of using those vehicles is low enough, more people will want to use them, increasing the number of kilometers that vehicles will travel in our cities, thus making congestion even worse,” he says.

The answer, according to Marx, is to invest in subway, streetcar and light rail system and to give buses their own lanes so they are not slowed down by traffic.

In Africa, McCurrie says certain areas could be quickly adapted to accommodate driverless cars but it will take 20 years for full autonomous cars to exist in developed countries, and longer in developing countries.

There will be consequences for the manufacturing industry. McCurrie says it could easily bring massive capital investment in infrastructure.

“The market will most likely accept some sort of premium for driver assist cars initially but eventually economics will have to rule,” says McCurrie.

In the short term, Marx suggests the biggest impact will be to goods transportation, where Nuro has seen an opportunity.

“This is already happening at mines in Australia and in the tar sands in Canada. There will likely also be more automation of transport trucks, at least for the segments of their routes on highways, in the next few years,” he says.

For many, the best outcome would be for driverless vehicles to connect suburban residents with a public transport hub and reduce the costs of public transportation.

“On services with fixed tracks, such as subways and trains, it shouldn’t be too difficult to automate drivers and reduce operating costs, which could potentially allow the transport agency to increase the level of service, meaning there would be a shorter wait time between trains. The same could be done with buses, especially if they’re given dedicated lanes where detecting other vehicles wouldn’t be an issue,” says Marx.

It seems we are a long way from sleeping while a car takes us to our destination.

Arts

Oliver Mtukudzi The Soldier With A Big Voice – Yvonne Chaka Chaka

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In January, Africa lost Oliver Mtukudzi. His friend and fellow musician Yvonne Chaka Chaka fondly remembers the global icon. 

In October 2012, Zimbabwe’s Oliver Mtukudzi, South Africa’s Yvonne Chaka Chaka and Kenya’s Suzanna Owíyo produced Because I Am Girl with musicians from around the world.

It was released to promote the global launch of Plan International’s ‘Because I am A Girl’ campaign, marking the first UN International Day of the Girl Child, on October 11.

READ MORE | Tribute To Oliver Mtukudzi – Zimbabwe’s ‘Man With The Talking Guitar’

Dressed in African prints, they sang together, spreading the word about the empowerment of the girl child.

Mtukudzi’s bass and Chaka Chaka’s soulful voice in harmony, they became more than co-artists; they become brother and sister. It was the first performance of many for the two.

Seven years on, Chaka Chaka is teary-eyed about Mtukudzi’s death 23 days into 2019, when not just she, but Africa lost a music legend.

In a strange coincidence, Mtukudzi died the same day the continent lost the father of South African jazz, Hugh Masekela, last year.

On the phone for this interview, Chaka Chaka describes Mtukudzi as a soldier at work.

“When he was on stage, he was a totally different man. When he had his guitar, it was like a soldier. Like a soldier who has a gun at work,” she tells us.

“I think there were two different people. Offstage, he was just an ordinary man, and on stage, people ate out of the palm of his hand.

“I’ve never known Oliver to never be fit. He has been a skinny man and he would just twist that body with a guitar and that gravel voice of his. A big voice in a small body,” she says.

“He has never called me Yvonne, he has always called me Fifi… Fifi means sister.

“The man was always humble, he never raised his voice, I have never seen him angry and all he has ever wanted is just to see Africa thriving. He wanted to see Africa beautiful. He wanted to see Africa with less disease, less hunger, less corruption, a happy Africa – that was his wish.”

One anecdote Chaka Chaka shares is when Mtukudzi was made a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in Zimbabwe in 2011.

“You know he sat there with me and asked, ‘so, what does this entail, my sister? You have been a goodwill ambassador for a long time. You will tell me what needs to be done. How should I act? How should I react? How should I do things?’

“And I’m like, ‘no, but you know, you are more of a star than me and you have been in this industry long before I’. He was just so down-to-earth and had no chip on his shoulder.” 

The last performance the two did together was in October last year in Harare during the Jacaranda Festival, attended by more than 2,000 people and other artists around the continent.

“Oliver was not in his changing room or at home. He stayed there and watched other artists perform, which was so great,” says Chaka Chaka.

“This year, he promised that we would do it [the Jacaranda Festival] in Bulawayo,” she said. They had planned to make it a big show and use their status as goodwill ambassadors to encourage and inspire more youth.

 But sadly, that promise will never be fulfilled.

“The legacy he will leave behind is a legacy of love, the legacy of pro-African and I think for me he was a pan-Africanist. That’s what he was,” she says.

READ MORE | Zimbabwe’s Oliver Mtukudzi Dies At 66

To this day, Neria is still one of Chaka Chaka’s favorite songs by him.

 Mtukudzi, who died aged 66 of diabetes, was laid to rest on January 27 in his home village of  Madziwa.

Thousands sang and danced to the melodies of his songs.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa declared him a national hero, posthumously, a status that has previously been reserved for ruling party elite and independence veterans.

He may be gone but his music will live forever in the hearts of the fans that loved this legend who soldiered on until the end.

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Economy

What A Failed Johannesburg Project Tells Us About Mega Cities In Africa

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Six years ago a major development was announced in South Africa. Billed as a game changer, it was meant to alter the urban footprint of Johannesburg, Africa’s richest city, forever.

The Modderfontein New City project was launched amid much fanfare, expectation and media hype.

Zendai, a Chinese developer, bought a 1600-hectare site north-east of Johannesburg for the development, which it quickly dubbed as the “New York of Africa”. Early plans showed it was to include 55,000 housing units, 1,468,000 m2 of office space and all the necessary amenities for urban life in the form of a single large-scale urban district. The cost estimate was set at R84 billion.

The developers believed that Modderfontein could function as a global business hub and would become Johannesburg’s main commercial center, replacing Sandton. The project would also change Johannesburg’s international profile by strengthening relations with Asian corporate interests.

But, despite the release of futuristic computer-generated images which led to significant publicity for the project, it was never built. Instead, the land was eventually sold off. Another developer has since begun construction on a much more scaled down project, in the form of a gated-community style housing development.

Modderfontein has faded away from the public consciousness. The story of why it failed has never been adequately told in the media.

Our research, which took place over the course of several years, sought to understand the factors which led to the project’s demise. We also wanted to find out how Modderfontein’s failure relates to the broader African urban context.

We found that the project was hindered by conflicting visions between the developer and the City of Johannesburg. Moreover, unexpectedly low demand for both housing and office space meant the original plan for the project was incompatible with the city’s real estate market.

The project’s trajectory also shows how African “edge-city” developments, which are generally elite-driven and marketed as “eco-friendly” or “smart”, can be influenced by a strong local government with the means and willingness to shape development.

Conflicting interests

Zendai’s aspirations to produce a high-end, mixed-used development did not fit with the City of Johannesburg’s approach. Rather than a luxurious global hub, the city wanted a more inclusive development – one which reflected the principles outlined in its 2014 Spatial Development Framework.

At the heart of the framework is the desire to reshape a trend that saw capital leave the old central business district for affluent Sandton at the dawn of democracy in 1994. This was accompanied by an upsurge in securitised suburbs further north towards Pretoria, the country’s capital city.

These spatial trends were incompatible with the ideals of South Africa’s new democratic government and its strategy to mitigate the effects of apartheid-era planning. During apartheid, black people were prohibited from living in more affluent areas, which were reserved for the minority white population. Instead, they were forced into sprawling “townships” on the periphery of cities, far from work and economic opportunities.

To this end, the city demanded that Zendai include at least 5 000 affordable homes in its plans. It also wanted to ensure that the development was compatible with, and complemented, Johanneburg’s public transport system. The city was willing to contribute funding for the necessary infrastructure and inclusive housing.

Yet Zendai remained steadfast in its commitment to its vision, eventually deciding against fully integrating the city’s wishes into its planning application. This saw the city draw-out the planning process.

Meanwhile, problems were mounting for Zendai. The owner, Dai Zhikang, was eventually forced to sell his stake in the project to the China Orient Asset Management Company. Rather than continuing with the project, the asset managers sold the land to the company behind the new housing development on the site.

Smart cities in Africa

Over the last decade, a variety of developments like Modderfontein, including Eko-Atlantic in Nigeria, New Cairo in Egypt, and Konza Technology City in Kenya, have been touted by both public and private sectors as panaceas for Africa’s urban problems. The thinking is that as the developments are disconnected from the existing urban landscape, they won’t be burdened by crime or informality. However, these projects can take badly needed resources away from the marginalised areas of the city.

To make them more palatable to domestic and international audiences, the developments are usually marketed as “smart” or “eco-friendly”.

But these developments can fail at the point of implementation. This is because, as speculative projects, they generally don’t recognise the need to fit in with the wishes of the local authorities or adapt to the existing city. In the case of Modderfontein, the city government had the capability to push back against the developers and, in the end tried to shape the project to better fit Johannesburg’s urban realities. – The Conversation

-Ricardo Reboredo; PhD Candidate in Geography, Trinity College Dublin

-Frances Brill; Research fellow, UCL

The Conversation

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Focus

4 Ways To Develop Employment-Ready Graduates

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Chris Pilgrim, the new CEO of Transnational Academic Group West Africa and Lancaster University Ghana, on the potential game-changers in higher education on the continent.


It is to a verdant academic campus in Ghana   that Chris Pilgrim will be packing his bags from the dunes of Dubai. As the new CEO of Transnational Academic Group (TAG) West Africa and Lancaster University Ghana, Pilgrim will provide students across emerging markets access to post-secondary and executive education.

TAG currently owns and operates Lancaster University’s campus in Ghana, Curtin University’s Dubai campus, and South Africa-based ABN Training in partnership with the Australian Institute of Management in Western Australia.

Pilgrim, who has helped develop TAG’s expansion in Africa and has over 25 years of experience in the higher education sector, spoke to FORBES AFRICA about skills-building, STEM and job creation:

READ MORE | Education Quality and the Youth Skills Gap Are Marring Progress in Africa

1. Are more universities looking to set up here?

A. With over half a million African students studying abroad annually, the continent has the highest outbound student ratio (number of outbound tertiary students/total number of tertiary students) in the world. Along with this annual migration of students comes capital flight, increased brain drain, and a hesitancy to build further world-class higher education capacity on the continent.

TAG partners with globally top-ranked universities to provide the highest quality of higher education in emerging market nations, thereby reversing, albeit modestly, the flow of students.

Our campus in Ghana, in partnership with Lancaster University (ranked sixth in the UK), provides world-class higher education capacity for West Africans, and it has seen students from other countries, including outside of Africa, take up enrolment.

TAG’s Lancaster University Ghana is the only comprehensive UK university campus in mainland Africa, and while TAG is undertaking steps to open similar branch campuses in other African countries, other investors and top-ranked universities have not moved to open campuses in the region.


Chris Pilgrim, the CEO of Transnational Academic Group West Africa and Lancaster University Ghana.

2. How can Africa build skills, capacity and create more jobs?

A. While there has been a modest growth of employment in the formal job sector in some countries, many of Africa’s youth are more likely today to take up work in the informal sectors and in family enterprises.

Africa, as a region, has the largest youth population in the world, and with over 11 million young people expected to enter the job market each year, its economies are stretched to productively absorb Africa’s greatest asset – this youth population.

While the continent’s education capacities and output are integral to leveraging this youth population into a potential demographic dividend, investments, both private and public, into relevant higher education capacities, particularly STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) capacity, are limited.

In the long-term, addressing the underlying causes of unemployment and skills-gap lies in increasing enrolment in secondary and tertiary education, with a focus on STEM, thus enabling graduates to participate in the new economies and globalization emerging with the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). Innovation, technology, and entrepreneurship are fundamental to creating the jobs of the future.

3. What is the increasing role of STEM programs?

A. While the vital importance of STEM education to infrastructure development, healthcare, energy security, agriculture, and the environment are well cited over the past decade, the role of STEM and digital skills in preparing for 4IR are potential game-changers.

READ MORE | Kenyan Approach Holds Promise for Boosting Early Childhood Education

African nations need to develop “future-ready curricula that encourage critical thinking, creativity and emotional intelligence as well as accelerate acquisition of digital and STEM skills to match the way people will work and collaborate in 4IR” (Source: WEF 2017 The Future of Jobs and Skills in Africa).

Lancaster University Ghana has been delivering relevant computer science curriculum since its inception, and is set to launch programs in engineering this year, followed by additional programs in STEM disciplines.

4. How are you creating future leaders?

A. TAG Ghana works closely with Lancaster University to assure that our students receive an education that is relevant both locally, and in the global context. We work closely with industry and the community to understand their needs so our graduates are employment-ready.

Interviewed by Methil Renuka

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