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The Efficiency Of Mining With Drones

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Can mines become more efficient – and safe – through tech? Robots, drones and virtual reality tools are now being used for sophisticated drilling operations.

The mining industry has been pivotal to the economy of South Africa for many years, but the current climate is tough.

Investor confidence in the sector is waning, with the country’s mines struggling in the face of a declining economy and regulatory uncertainty. The industry used to contribute almost a fifth of the country’s GDP, but this contribution has been declining by about 0.2% per year.

In the meantime, input costs are rising, with the end result being an almost 50% decline in investor profits, while dividends have fallen by more than half. As a result, employment has fallen. In the gold mining sector, for example, almost 50,000 jobs have been lost since 2009. In a bid to make the sector more efficient and increase margins, mining firms are turning to tech.

The old technologies – pneumatic drills and the like – being employed by individual miners are slowly being phased out. Robots, drones and virtual reality are the new order of the day.

At Kumba Iron Ore, one of the largest producers of iron ore globally, drilling is going high-tech. Whereas miners used to sit for up to eight hours at a time on a truck-sized machine, drilling holes in which to place explosives, now they can do it from the comfort of an office. Kumba is one of only two iron ore mining firms globally to have started using autonomous drills.

READ MORE: Mining Charter Back To Square 26

The decision to use this drill was a response to the volatility of the commodities market. Investing in tech, the company believed, would make its operations more efficient.

Between 2014 and 2017, Kumba has spent R748 million (about $52.5 million) on the implementation of new technologies.

Drones took flight over its Kolomela mine in South Africa’s Northern Cape province in December 2015, and Kumba now has a fleet of 10. Fitted with state-of-the-art cameras and laser scanners, they have taken over drilling operations, as well as providing up-to-date, real-time data on the mine’s operations. Surveyors are safer as they do not need to physically visit sites.

“The technology projects are aimed at creating safer work environments by removing people from harmful environments, improving productivity through the implementation of real time, efficient solutions that results in driving down costs and maximizing the utilization of current and future resources in order to remain competitive in the long-term through the development of low-grade beneficiation technology,” says Bongi Ntsoelengoe, Technology Manager at Kumba Iron Ore.

The results have been impressive, with Kumba’s productivity rising dramatically. Operating hours are up by 20%, according to Ntsoelengoe, while drill hole quality has improved and the company will need fewer drilling machines over the mine’s lifetime. Not only have efficiencies and production improved, driving down operating costs, the mines are also safer.

Bongi Ntsoelengoe, Technology Manager at Kumbe Iron Ore. Photo Supplied.

“Benchmarking studies have shown that South African mining industry has lagged behind in the adoption of technology until recently,” Ntsoelengoe said.

That is slowly changing. Another mining giant becoming increasingly tech-savvy is Rio Tinto, which has the largest fleet of driverless trucks in the industry.

These trucks are remotely controlled from a state-of-the-art operations center 1,500 kilometers away, and hauled one billion tonnes of ore in February alone.

Rio Tinto is also establishing the world’s first fully-autonomous heavy haul, long-distance rail network, and is the first mining company to achieve fully-automated hole pattern drilling without human intervention. Its iron ore business currently operates seven fully autonomous rigs for drilling production blast holes.

“Our Autonomous Drill System enables a single operator from a remote location to operate up to four autonomous drill rigs simultaneously. This technology is much safer for the operator and has improved both precision and equipment utilization,” says Stephen McIntosh, Rio Tinto’s Group Executive, Growth & Innovation.

Meanwhile, 3D visualization technology RTV delivers real-time 3D models of ore deposits located far beneath the surface that previously couldn’t be measured.

“This enables more accurate drilling and blasting, reduced explosive use and better waste classification,” says McIntosh.

Like Kumba, Rio Tinto is also improving its data collection through tech. Its Mine Automation System (MAS) allows it to combine myriad streams of data to deliver operational insights in real-time to step up productivity performance.

“It helps give us a better understanding of what grade is where before we mine and is a powerful resource to drive productivity improvements from mine to market,” says McIntosh.

Meanwhile, the environment is also benefitting.

Rio Tinto has launched the world’s first certified low CO2 aluminium, RenewAl, and cutting-edge AP smelting technology, which reduces electricity use and lowers emissions.

“As we look to develop more mines at greater depths, we’re using technology to keep people safe – such as sensors to monitor conditions, autonomous vehicles to haul ore, and complex ventilation systems to create a comfortable working environment,” says McIntosh.

He says Rio Tinto’s early adoption of automation was across the board, helping it drive productivity, lower costs and increase safety. This was the direction in which the industry is headed, he says, with more mines likely to jump on board and invest in tech in the future. This could help pull the whole industry out of the doldrums.

“As an industry, we have achieved incredible things through scaling and ever refining known technologies,” says McIntosh.

– By Tom Jackson

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How To Cut The Cord: The Top Smart TVs For Streaming 2019

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Freeing yourself from the shackles of cable or satellite television is easier to do than you might think, especially if you have a smart or connected television.

Smart TVs have integrated internet and interactive features that allow users to stream music and videos, browse the Web and view photos. Almost every new high-end television sold within the last two years or so has smart capabilities. So how do you choose?

If you want to take advantage of streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime and more, then look at these television sets.

LG C9 OLED 65-inch TV
Best smart TVs
On the streaming front, it provides a single place to browse and search for TV shows and movies from apps like Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, ESPN, PlayStation Vue, and more. LG

In addition to a beautiful, detailed picture and a big soundstage, this 4K OLED sports cutting-edge connectivity, including an HDMI 2.1, and a comprehensive feature set including both Google Home and Amazon Alexa built in. It also comes with Home Dashboard, a new tool that turns the set into the central control hub of all your connected home devices—from doorbell cameras to smart thermostats to appliances like a washing machine or a stove.

On the streaming front, it provides a single place to browse and search for TV shows and movies from sites such as Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, ESPN, PlayStation Vue, and more. It also lets users rent, purchase and watch TV shows and movies from Apple’s iTunes store.

Vizio 55-inch M-Series Quantum
Best smart tVs
This Vizio is equipped with updated SmartCast 3.0 software includes support for Apple AirPlay2 and HomeKit, making it just as suitable for iOS users. VIZIO

At under $700, the 55-inch M-Series Quantum offers a serious value in the smart TV arena. Not only does it deliver an excellent picture and sound, but it is also equipped with updated SmartCast 3.0 software, which includes support for Apple AirPlay2 and HomeKit (making it just as suitable for iOS users).

The update also has a more vibrant selection of locally installed apps, including Netflix, Amazon Video, Hulu and Vudu. Thanks to a partnership with PlutoTV, the Vizio also offers a dedicated streaming channel called WatchFree, which gives you a TV-watching experience with more than 100 free channels, including sports, news, cartoons, and movies. You can also pair the set with an Amazon Echo device for voice control with Alexa.

Sony Master Series 65-inch A9F OLED TV
Best Smart TVs
This 65-incher also comes with Google Assistant capability, which lets you search for content, find online information, use online services and even control smart-home devices.SONY

If money is no object and you want a TV with loads of features, an incredible picture and terrific sound, go with the Sony A9G. The A9F is one of the first Sony Android TVs to ship with the newest version of its smart OS. The most notable names in video are preloaded, including Amazon Prime Video, Google Play Movies & TV, Hulu, Netflix, Sling TV,and YouTube. For music, Google Play Music, Pandora, SiriusXM, Spotify, Tidal and a slew of internet radio stations.

This Sony 65-incher also comes with Google Assistant, which lets you search for content, find online information, use online services and even control smart-home devices. 

TCL 43S517 Roku Smart 4K TV
Best smart TVs
The Roku TV interface is uncluttered and easy to navigate, with big square tiles for all your apps and streaming services, including Netflix and Hulu. TCL

Great things can come in packages costing less than $400. Not only will you get a terrific picture, robust sound and a slew of genuinely exciting features, this TCL 43-inch model sports Dolby Vision HDR, Dolby Atmos audio support and integrated Roku voice search.

The Roku TV interface is uncluttered and easy to navigate, with big square tiles for all of your apps and streaming services, including Netflix and Hulu. There are also apps for major broadcasters, major sports leagues, and premium channels such as HBO and Showtime. Of particular interest to cord-cutters will be support for Sling TV, which provides a cable-like experience without the expense of a cable subscription.

Insignia 43-Inch 4K Fire TV Edition
Best Smart TVs
This under $300 43-incher offers most of the apps you’d expect, like Netflix, Hulu, HBO Go and HBO Now, as well as Amazon Prime Video. INSIGNIA

Amazon finally seems to have a Fire TV that can compete with the Roku-powered smart sets. This 4K television with HDR support is packed with features for the Amazon faithful, with Alexa voice interaction built-in, Amazon’s huge selection of Fire TV apps, and a smart TV experience that puts Prime Video centerstage.  

This 43-incher costs less than $300 and offers most of the streaming apps you would expect, such as Netflix, Hulu, HBO Go and HBO Now, as well as Amazon Prime Video. Plus, Fire TV will soon get an official YouTube app packed with services such as YouTube Kids, YouTube Music and (most critical for cord-cutters) YouTube TV.

-Chuck Tannert, Forbes

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Multi-Disciplinary Education In The 4IR Era

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There is an adage that states “if you want to know the future of a nation, study the behavior of its teachers”.

The most potent force for political, economic and social progress in society is education. The measure of how great a nation will rise is determined by how many people in its population are educated. The African continent today has a total purchasing power parity gross domestic product (GDP) of $6.7 trillion, and a population of 1.2 billion people.

According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), in 2016, sub-Saharan Africa had a literacy rate of 76% compared to 89% in South and West Asia, 87% in the Arab states and 98% in the developed nations.

This literacy rate in sub-Saharan Africa is far from adequate, and calls for urgent and practical action to improve it.

READ MORE | Amid Trade Wars, What Africa Must Do

We are living in an era characterized by the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) where technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain are changing all aspects of our lives. Factories are automating. Because of these changes, the nature of work is changing.

Many jobs are disappearing altogether, and new types of jobs are being created. For example, we now have jobs that did not exist 20 years ago, such as Data Scientists. AI is now able to diagnose severe diseases such as pulmonary embolism, epilepsy and leukemia complementing the work of medical professionals. Because of the rapid automation in the medical field, doctors today require an in-depth knowledge of technology.

These changes in society because of 4IR require new sets of skills. Are our education systems ready to capacitate our people with the requisite skills to tackle the problems of 4IR?  Do we have enough teachers at all levels of our educational systems to be able to give our people skills that will make them useful in the 4IR era? Do we have enough educational institutions to be able to skill our people? Unfortunately, the answers to these two questions are in the negative.

READ MORE | Data Is The New Gold

Given that we do not have enough teachers nor educational institutions to provide a critical mass of our people the requisite capabilities that will help them survive in the 4IR, what is to be done? One way of tackling this problem is to take a lesson from the first Indian Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, who realized that for India to thrive in the 20th century, it needed to invest in elite technical education. In this regard, he introduced the Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT).

Nehru had this to say in 1956 at the first convocation address of the first IIT in Kharagpur, a city in West Bengal: “…Here in the place of that Hijli Detention Camp stands the fine monument of India, representing India’s urges, India’s future in the making. This picture seems to me symbolical of the changes that are coming to India.”

It is vital that African countries create a few elite institutions that will drive the African continent into the 4IR. The Pan-African University supported by the African Union is a good start, but we can do more.

Additionally, these elite institutes should not be limited to higher education only but must also focus on primary and secondary education. One example in Johannesburg is the African Leadership Academy (ALA), which targets gifted 16-to-19-year-olds. Today, the ALA has alumni from 46 different countries making an impact on the political, economic, and social aspects of the African continent.

READ MORE | The 4IR Strategy To Move Forward

For us to thrive in the 4IR era also requires our educational experience to be multi-disciplinary. In our limited institutions of higher learning, students enrolled for programs in the human and social sciences must also study technological subjects.

Those enrolled in technological programs must study human and social subjects. Technological subjects should focus on the issues that confront the African continent, such as affordable and appropriate technology, limited and incomplete data, and cost-effective manufacturing.

The human and social subjects should focus on the urgent issues facing Africa today, such as social cohesion, connectivity, stability, conflict and unity. Due to the limitations of physical infrastructure and good teachers, African countries should pull their resources together and invest in online platforms to facilitate education through modern techniques such as blended and augmented learning.

The outcome of the education system, whether at primary, secondary, or tertiary levels, should be logical, numeracy and verbal skills. These skills will give our people the capacity to tackle the challenges of the 4IR such as coding, problem-solving, critical thinking, creativity and decision-making. 

– Tshilidzi Marwala is a professor, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of Johannesburg. He deputizes President Cyril Ramaphosa on the South African Presidential Commission on the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

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Creators Rather Than Consumers

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More entrepreneurs are committing to closing the skills gap in Africa’s future job market.


In 2015, an image of a young man, Tankiso Motaung, at a street corner in the middle of Sandton, Johannesburg, holding up a placard, went viral. On the sign were the words, “I have a BTech in electrical engineering. Please help. I need a job,” along with his contact number.

The following year, an image circulated on social media of Anthea Malwandle, a young chemical engineering graduate, standing by the traffic lights, similarly, begging for a job.

What is the future of work in a digitally-led world? Is it this dismal?

The World Economic Forum’s (WEF) 2018 Future Of Jobs Report, reveals nearly 50% of companies expect digitization will lead to a reduction in their full-time workforce. It further estimates that by 2022, 75 million jobs globally would taper off as a consequence of digital business transformation. 

READ MORE | South Africa’s Informal Sector: Why People Get Stuck In Precarious Jobs

South Africa’s unemployment rate is already high. Motaung and Malwandle represent more than 50% of our youth that are unemployed. And according to Statistics South Africa, one out of three graduates will, likewise, enter the job market without any economic prospects.

But Nedbank economist, Isaac Matshego, is full of optimism. He is of the opinion that the initial job losses will be temporary.

“As humans get better acquainted and familiar with the new way of doing things and incorporating the new economic methods of production, we often see a net benefit to humanity overall,” he says.

More so, Matshego advocates that at the beginning, digitization actually requires human skills and so does the maintenance of the technology.

“That means we have to train our information technology staff,” he elaborates.

READ MORE | 4 Ways To Develop Employment-Ready Graduates

The good news is that digital and other tech innovations will directly and indirectly produce new sources of work. The WEF report further suggests that 133 million new jobs may be created by 2022, thanks to industry 4.0.

But, for these opportunities to scale to the extent needed to address South Africa’s current employment crisis, there needs to be a strong supply of quality skills – spanning foundational skills like basic numeracy and literacy, through to advanced tech skills, according to Mark Schoeman, a manager of youth and technology at economic consulting firm Genesis Analytics.

“The first hurdle South Africa has to overcome is closing the skills gap in the short-term. There are an insufficient number of graduates with key skills in STEM being produced by educational pathways, and a qualification-job mismatch which sees graduates taking up work that does not reflect their qualification,” he says. Schoeman asserts this gap is an impediment to the country’s ability to realize new economic opportunities brought forth by technology.

READ MORE | OPINION | Technology Is Useful, But Drones Alone Won’t Save Africa’s Elephants

Government and private interventions have been made to ensure young people are training and learning critical skills to thrive in the changing world of work.

Heeding this call is WeThinkCode, one of the organizations fixated on future-proofing the youth. A non-profit, new-age technology school, WeThinkCode, led by Managing Director, Nyaradzai Samushanga, seeks to eradicate unemployment in the ‘tech’ economy by providing youth with skills sought after in the new world of work.

Headquartered in Johannesburg, the tuition-free school was founded in 2016 by three South Africans: Arlene Mulder, Yossi Hasson, Justinus Adriaanse and French citizen, Camille Agon. The institution enrols 430 students aged 17 – 35 years who are taught technical skills in software development including programming, graphics and algorithms.

“We do not measure success when students graduate. We measure success as placement at employment,” says Samushanga.

“All our graduates have been placed into permanent employment with a minimum entry-level salary of R20,000 ($1,408) per month… It is taking someone who could’ve fallen in between the cracks, and now they are a highly-skilled worker,” says Samushanga.

READ MORE | 5 Ways Tech Can Revolutionize Education

More entrepreneurs are committing to the cause of closing the skills gap in Africa’s job market. Audrey Patricia Cheng, 25, the co-founder and CEO of Moringa School in Nairobi, Kenya, says: “We realized there was a massive gap in terms of access and also quality education. And we are seeing a massive rise in the number of jobs around technical skills because many companies are moving to the digital space.”

Since its inception in 2015, Moringa School has since trained close to 2,000 students with the necessary digital skills. Cheng is confident the continent is moving to a future where Africans would be creators of technology rather than just consumers.

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