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Breaking Office Walls With Augmented And Virtual Reality

These days just about anything can be composited with an AR component and the future will also see the rise of mixed reality – a combination of real and virtual worlds, whereby an action in the virtual world will affect the real world. This is only the beginning of 2018!

Mic Mann

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These days there’s so much to be said of office space. We’re seeing open-plan spaces with hot desks, large windows with natural light and plants, game rooms, gardens, in-office restaurants, pet-friendly areas, and anything else you can think of that stimulates creativity and productivity in the work place.

Astronauts, surgeons and engineering companies are huge supporters of remote virtual reality-enabled training as it decreases risks and costs. At the inaugural SingularityU South Africa Summit Mxolisi Mgojo, CEO of Exxaro Resources, spoke about how their employees, some of whom hadn’t completed matric, were able to operate and fix complex mining machines and vehicles with the help of a remote online expert and virtual reality. Yet some business owners are still asking themselves whether there is budget for augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) in the average business.

The two are often confused – virtual reality places you in a 360-degree animated or live-action environment with the help of a head set; while augmented reality creates a composite view by superimposing a computer-generated image on the real world with the help of a smartphone, tablet or AR-enabled device.

I believe 2018 will be the year in which the digital dimension in the work place – thanks to AR and VR technologies – will become more of a reality beyond merely gaming or entertainment. It will add another layer to our world.

Related: How The Digital World Has Impacted HR

The VR market is estimated to exceed $40 billion by 2020, according to the Global Virtual Reality Market (Hardware and Software) and Forecast by Orbis Research. The biggest players – with a 50% market share in 2016 – were Sony, Facebook, Google and Samsung. Augmented and virtual reality are going to be a trillion-dollar industry in the near future. At SingularityU South Africa, we see it as one of the disruptive exponential technologies that is rapidly changing our world.

Apple iOS11 is equipped with ARKit technology and in future all smartphones are going to be AR-enabled, which is really going to be a gamechanger. Augmented and virtual reality are going to become ubiquitous. I predict that both technologies will be mainstream by 2020.

So, what will work stations, offices and businesses of the future look like and how will these technologies change the way we work?

Virtual and augmented reality will replace 2D computer screens with 3D presentations that are brought to life through animations fused with real-life components. Though we’re still in the early stages, mobile- and desktop-enabled VR and AR applications will allow employees to put on a compact head set that is comfortable to wear for an extended period of time, and be transported through space where all their applications – spread sheets, Word documents, web browsers – are infinitely suspended in the air around them. A video feed will allow them to see their hands typing on the keyboard. It’ll be like something out of Minority Report.

Icelandic tech start-up Mure VR has caught onto what psychology calls Attention Restoration Theory and high-fascination environments (nature’s patterns, textures and colours), which stimulate cognitive renewal and improve concentration. So, they developed the Breakroom app. The virtual desktop-type app allows users to become wholly immersed in any kind of natural landscape and background. Such VR environments encourage greater productivity and fewer distractions in the work space.

Virtual reality is slowly but surely going to kill video conferencing because it’s a much more immersive experience. Gone will be the days of Google Hangouts and Skype conference calls, when you can have a virtual boardroom with executives from around the world, who just have to put on their head sets to see an animated or real-life avatar of their colleagues, as if they are in front of them. It’ll forgo the necessity to travel to attend those meetings – saving time, travel and accommodation costs, while decreasing traveller friction. Because VR allows employees to work from home, we’re also going to see a rise in the location-independent workforce and digital nomads that work more flexible hours and have a healthier work-life balance.

Besides the obvious virtues of augmented and virtual reality in the office, these technologies also allow businesses to sell their products to clients in more immersive ways, undergo realistic customer-service scenarios without the risk and reduced costs, and provide near real-life simulations of technical procedures that allow employees to fix things through remote viewing.

One of 2017’s greatest breakthroughs was how the medical industry started to embrace Microsoft’s HoloLens for medical education and diagnosis. Cleveland Clinic and Case Western Reserve University in the United States are leading the way.

Magic Leap’s Leap One AR headset – which includes a wireless controller and is kitted out with cameras and sensors for accurate head and body-tracking – is essentially a wearable computer. Whatever it is that you’d do on your smartphone or computer is projected into your field of view, about the size of a VHS tape if your arms are half extended. It gives users a viewing window into mixed reality.

This is definitely going to be one of the biggest things to watch in 2018. And we’ll see many more improvements in wearable technologies in the coming months and years.

Related: The 10 Best New-Age Business Ideas You Haven’t Heard About Yet

Then there’s how virtual reality will impact the real estate sector. Instead of wasting time and money driving from one residential or commercial property to the next, a realtor can walk you through a number of properties around the world within an hour. Once you’ve bought the property, you can use the recently launched IKEA Place AR app, which runs on Apple’s ARKit, to virtually furnish it with the swipe of your finger. The app scales the IKEA products, based on room dimensions, with 98% accuracy and it’s so detailed that you can even see the texture of the fabric.

Augmented and virtual reality are going to be used more and more for company inductions, team building in the form of gamification features as well as for promotional and marketing campaigns as with some of Mann Made’s projects from the Carling Cup virtual reality 360-degree video to our VR activations that use the Oculus Rift or Apple’s ARkit.

These days just about anything can be composited with an AR component and the future will also see the rise of mixed reality – a combination of real and virtual worlds, whereby an action in the virtual world will affect the real world. This is only the beginning of 2018!

Mic Mann is a futurist, speaker and strategist on exponential technologies. In 2017 he co-organised the inaugural SingularityU South Africa Summit. He runs the Johannesburg Singularity Global Impact Challenge and the SU JHB chapter. As co-founder of Mann Made, an award-winning agency, he works with start-ups and Fortune 500 companies. Mic’s passionate about entrepreneurship, has 16 years of experience in the media and marketing industries, and is involved in the start-up and maker communities. Stalk Mic on Twitter: @micmannsa.

Technology

What’s Smart About Cities? Inviting Exponential Possibilities

It is also what produces both their problems and their innovativity that needs to be considered.

Entrepreneur

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Cities are intense. They are diverse, competitive and malleable – highly responsive to human and non-human action, sometimes in weird and unpredictable ways. Therefore, cities tend to be characterised by an elevated urgency, messiness and even volatility. And this intensity is what attracts many of us to them. It is also what produces both their problems and their innovativity.

What cities are not is a place to park off and wait for anything. These are energetic places where you have to be busy and engaged – light on the feet, fingers to the pulse, living in the dynamic realities and fantasies, and there are always old and new problems with which to contend. And this is exactly why innovation is often acknowledged as a largely urban phenomenon – the consequence of this intensity combined with other conditions, such as the concentration of knowledge organisations and infrastructures in urban centres worldwide.

So, whenever people ask me about smart cities, I have a standard response: “What’s smart to you?” And often what follows is a litany of tech solutions we could be deploying in cities to make them more efficient, more futuristic.

Now, I love tech as much as the next person and I am not ignorant of the exponential growth and fundamental impacts of tech in our times. However, I am also aware of another concurrent reality: that human population, and particularly in the youth category, has also been growing exponentially in Africa. And people (for now) develop tech. So, where do we locate smart or not smart?

Let’s start with some facts that we are all increasingly aware of. Today, over half of the world’s population is under 30, and two billion are classified as youth. In South Africa, already over 20 million people (35% of national population) are between the ages of 15 and 34. According to the United Nations, one out of three young people in the world will be African by 2050.

Related: Watch List: 20 SA Tech Entrepreneurs Making It Big In The Industry

How exciting! Notwithstanding the serious issue of planetary limits, we are looking at billions of young people who are designed to be creative and adaptive in a range of contexts and with the ability to exchange and learn. There are so many possibilities and directions imaginable! Yet when we start talking about how we innovate our way into and through the future, the focus is squarely elsewhere. Suddenly there are very few and very similar voices around the table that focus on the agency of a few and centre tech as the key driver. The agency of billions is occluded and they become the so-called entitled beneficiaries, use cases, and/or the grateful consumers.

Coming back to smart (and my assertion that I am not anti-tech) – why does this matter? Well, it matters because tech is developed and governed by people. People determine the assumptions and rules that we embed into what we encode. We en-culture tech so to speak – contrary to the simplistic claim that tech is objective or neutral.

In my view, it is not likely that technology on its own has the potential to be usefully transformative. Consider, the hyper-connected world that IoT enables or blockchain’s democratisation of not only administration, but also of traditional entrepreneurship and innovation systems. These could be transformative – but not if our processes of technological development and diffusion are the domain of the fortunate few, circumventing – or even subverting – the recognition and involvement of the billions. Barring blind faith in the benevolence of the privileged or in happenstance – the technologies are far more likely to reproduce our current structure and gaps of privilege and exclusion. This is a good example of how not to be smart: following the same old processes with new tools and expecting different results. And then not recognising it as such.

We need to get smarter. We need to activate the over 50% unemployed youth in South Africa as well as the billion who are living in slums all around the world. We need to cease thinking of inclusion only as an outcome, and instead tap into the dynamism of place and the spirit of youth to engage, play, imagine, try to mix. We need to open up to an abundance of visceral ideas and queer possibilities which speak to a multiverse of unique contexts, circumstances and considerations; which are witty, novel and generative.

This, in my view, is the essence of what we should refer to as “smart”. With this openness, there is the possibility of pursuing the idea that everything from the strategic to the operational processes and assumptions of technological change can be more relevant and transformative as processes of current inclusiveness than as solutions for a magical future destination called inclusion.

Imagine a situation where everyone was acknowledged as having ideas which any of them could pursue on the ideas’ merit and relevance, and with concomitant recognition, rather than advancement relying on arbitrarily (or even unfairly) assigned access and privilege and power? Imagine that…

“Smart” for South Africa – and for African cities – has got to be about enabling the millions and billions of youth to do what they could do best: energise and inspire. And while we may have been focusing on millennials’ poor education or non-sensibilities as the excuses for their perpetual exclusion, it is evident that even these assumptions need to be subjected to interrogation and innovation. The smart process has to be open to finding new ways of being and doing, and figure out how to make them work. The technologies will follow function, rather than vice versa.

The recently launched African Leadership Institute report An Abundance of Young African Leaders but no Seat at the Table (2018), bears a title that tells it all. According to this report, 700 000 young Africans have been exposed to some form of leadership initiative in recent years. Yet they get little opportunity to gain the experience of providing leadership and are, the report says, largely invisible.

Cities and emerging technologies are not abstract trends around us. Nor are they autonomous solutions for the future of humanity or so-called smartness. They are part of an ecosystem of which we are part, and in which we should probably be looking to enact different processes of engagement, given our challenges and desire to be smarter. We could start by inviting the transformative potential of our massive numbers of youth, drawing them out of invisibility. If we don’t recognise our real abundance – the abundance of youthful potential and possibility – then perhaps we are just waiting for a few people somewhere with their gadgets to come colonise our future with their version of what is considered to be smart, and then to specify our role in it. And that is really not very smart.

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How Lexus Is Emphasising Quality And Taking Craftsmanship To New Heights

The seventh generation Lexus ES is crafted to the last millimetre and is the essence of comfort​.

Lexus

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The seventh generation Lexus ES ushers in an era of performance, mirrored by design that stirs the soul. The exceptional body rigidity allows for incredible design freedom, resulting in design that has the confidence to stand out. The brave new design that is lower, wider and sleeker, giving this sedan a coupé-like silhouette.

The 2018 Lexus ES range has no space for mediocrity – every vehicle excels and provokes. The petrol ES 250 EX and hybrid ES 300H SE set a standard of excellence with unparalleled levels of sophistication, elegance and performance. The Lexus ES range places all available performance in the driver’s hands for an intimate experience. It is performance that can be heard and felt.

The new Lexus ES has a profile that is impossible to ignore. The striking signature spindle grille is a significant feature, a sculpted form that speaks of inherited architecture and meticulous craftsmanship. It is the embodiment of provocative elegance, of finesse and sophistication.

Every curve builds from the grille. Athletic headlights flow from the spindle grille, emphasising the sleek lines of the three-dimensional front-end while tracing the outline of the lowered roofline.

The Lexus Takumi craftsmen embody the quest for perfection by carefully refining design elements. Boldness is balanced with elegance, and innovative design characteristics are made possible by the new chassis platform that allows the New Generation ES to be longer, wider and more spacious than ever before, but with a sleeker and lower silhouette. The fastback roofline captures the glamour of a coupé and emphasises the low stance, while the interior roominess is all premium sedan.

Related: 10 SA Entrepreneurs Who Built Their Businesses From Nothing

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The meticulous attention to detail of the Lexus Takumi craftsmen is evident in every inch of the Lexus ES interior. In a physical manifestation of Omotenashi, the Japanese philosophy of warm hospitality where your every need is anticipated and catered for, the Lexus ES offers a personal comfort zone, an escape from the ordinary.

The ES seduces you with details such as embossed stitching on semi-aniline leather-trimmed* seating and real wood trim*. The door panels flow into the instrument console, creating a sense of spaciousness, and at the same time placing all controls of the navigation*, Multi-information and entertainment systems within your grasp, while all driving related functions, as well as those for communication, are controlled from the leather-trimmed steering wheel.

Define your own personal climate with automatic dual zone climate control. The innovative nanoe air-purifiers cleanse the air and moisturise your skin, which is why stepping out of the new Lexus ES, is just as invigorating as stepping into it.

For further individual comfort, the front seats of all ES models have adjustable lumbar support, with standard heated and ventilated seats.

At Lexus safety is of paramount importance, which is why the new Lexus ES features the most advanced passive and active safety and driver support systems available. This is the most technologically advanced Lexus ES ever, with traditional measures of comfort merged with cutting-edge technology for all-encompassing driving pleasure.

* Available on ES 300H only

Read next: 10 Dynamic Black Entrepreneurs

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Technology

3 Things Africa Must Get Right If It Wants To Leapfrog Into The 4th Industrial Revolution

Dr Sharron McPherson, who lectures on the MCom in Development Finance at the UCT Graduate School of Business, is optimistic that the coming technological revolution can benefit Africa – but that education, government buy-in and targeted support of small to medium businesses will play a critical role in determining if the continent sinks or swims.

Dr Sharron McPherson

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“The 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR) and Future Proofing are current buzz-phrases in business, but what we are really looking at is the emergence of an entirely new economy,” says Dr Sharron McPherson, who, as co-founder and executive director of the Centre for Disruptive Technologies, “has over 1 000 disruptive techies around the globe on speed dial.”

Disruptive technology, that which is significantly changing the way business operates – a literal game changer – is seen as the spearhead of 4IR and it has people scrabbling for skills that will future-proof their careers and keep them ahead of the game. It’s a topic McPherson tackled, along with the impact of technology on finance, at Finance Indaba Africa, which took place on 3 and 4 October at the Sandton Convention Centre.

“We have to look at technological acceleration and the need to upskill youth as part of a whole,” says McPherson, who has studied the market in depth on behalf of governments and corporations using a substantial team. “Change is happening so fast it is hard for any one person to be an expert.”

McPherson comes as close as anyone to the role of expert in this fast-changing field. A lecturer on the MCom in Development Finance at the UCT Graduate School of Business, she argues that a new economic paradigm is emerging, and it is not driven solely by technology, but by global pressures such as climate change – with its very real implications for food, water and energy security – booming populations and the knock-on demands on land and resources, and rising terrorism, populism and nationalism as systems get stressed and people start saying “us first”.

“What differentiates 4IR from former revolutions is the quantum of change and the convergence of global factors of a magnitude quite unprecedented in human history. It is sobering, and yet I am encouraged by the time I spend with young people and those who are investing in future generations and the future of work,” says McPherson.

Related: A Perfect Storm: Business, Creativity And The 4th Industrial Revolution

Born in the US, McPherson came to South Africa in the mid-90s armed with a doctorate degree in law from Columbia University, New York, to serve as a volunteer in the offices of legendary Constitutional Court Justice Albie Sachs in Johannesburg. She also has an honours degree in finance from the University of Toulon, France, and a BA Economics from the College of William & Mary.

“I was divorced, a single mom to a six year old, and I volunteered for two years,” she says. “I’d been working on Wall Street on mortgage-backed securitisations and I saw the light! In the mid-90s South Africa was the most exciting place on earth – the youngest constitutional democracy. I got bit by the African bug. It gets into your blood and makes it difficult to leave,” she says with a laugh.

Passionate about the continent, McPherson believes in the power of education to shift the future and wants all young people to have access to a high-quality STEM education (science, technology, engineering and maths) to ready them for 4IR.

“This is an opportunity that needs to be recognised,” she says. “Africa is uniquely positioned to leapfrog into 4IR, but we need make changes so that we can realise that promise. We have a choice to invest in the education of 200 million young Africans – it is a position of promise or peril.”

Unfortunately, as things stand, South Africa is “way down” on the list of the countries that are getting STEM education right. In an effort to democratise access to a STEM education, the Centre for Disruptive Technologies has invested a lot into the development of an artificial intelligence teaching platform that will have intuitive sensitivities when it comes to learner abilities.

But as important as investing in education is, it will not be enough to prepare youth for a world where many will not be able to get a job and will need to create their own work opportunities. The second issue that needs attention therefore, believes McPherson, is entrepreneurship and creating the right start-up ecosystem.

“We need to revisit ideas around enterprise development and how to get it right.”

One of the traps South Africa has created for itself is to bundle micro businesses with small and medium enterprises but these businesses often have vastly different needs – and prospects.

“By pooling these businesses with micro businesses you are limiting results. Small and medium businesses are the real drivers of growth and need to be specifically catered for, with defined objectives around their needs, driven strategies and allocated resources to make sure their potential is maximised. Start-ups and SME are also not the same. We need to understand and appreciated these differences if we want to develop the right ecosystems.”

This brings McPherson to her final point, the essential need for government to assume its role as a key stakeholder. “Everything we have done at the Centre for Disruptive Technologies we have done in collaboration with the private sector because we simply haven’t been able to get traction from government. To really prepare for 4IR we need meaningful private / public partnerships and African solutions,” she says.

Working with such macro challenges is all in day’s work for McPherson, who is also a keen runner, getting up between four and five most mornings to run. She also meditates – “taking time to reconnect with my values and helping me to not sweat the small stuff” – hikes, and speaks seven languages.

“I am a chronic over-achiever,” she says with a laugh. But she deems her highest achievement her daughter’s respect for her work in education and empowering women. “It is really lovely if your kid thinks that what you are doing is hot. That for me is good. I am so encouraged by the young folk who are so tech savvy, take a lot more risk than our generation and have a different compass. Their true north has a much stronger social conscience.

“It gives me hope for the future.”

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