Nigeria will wait for outcome of MTN’s court case

Nigerian authorities will wait for the outcome of a court challenge filed by Africa’s largest mobile phone operator MTN before deciding on whether to enforce a R59 billion ($3.9 billion) fine imposed by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), according to a report.


Reuters news agency reported that the Nigerian Communications ministry spokesman contradicted a source in the NCC, who earlier said “appropriate action” would be taken against MTN if it failed to pay the fine by a December 31 deadline for failing to disconnect users with unregistered SIM cards.

“The federal government, NCC (regulator) or any government agent will not do anything at the expiration of the December 31 deadline,” Victor Oluwadamilare, the ministry’s media assistant told Reuters. “Now that they (MTN) have gone to court we will await the outcome of the case,” he added. “This is a government that believes in the rule of law.”

Meanwhile, MTN, also insisted that its action was induced by commitment and belief in the long term sustainability of its business.

“The fine has potentially dire consequences for the company, its employees, partners, stakeholders as well as the entire Nigerian telecommunications industry,” MTN Nigeria’s human resources & corporate services xxecutive, Amina Oyagbola, told the Vanguard newspaper.

MTN was given a December 31 deadline to pay the fine for its failure to disconnect 5.2 million subscribers who did not register their SIM cards. But on Thursday announced it was planning to challenge in court a $3,9 billion fine imposed on it by the NCC.

The South African based mobile phone operator has hired seven Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SAN) to fight the R59 billion ($3.9 billion) fine imposed on it by the Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC), according to Africa Review.

Uber to drive Proteas fans home

In a first for a national sporting federation in South Africa, Cricket South Africa (CSA) and Uber have signed an agreement that will see fans being able to make use of the Uber service to and from Proteas home matches for the upcoming international season.

The Uber service will be available for matches played in Gauteng (Wanders Stadium and SuperSport Park), Western Cape (Newlands), Eastern Cape (St Georges Park) and KwaZulu-Natal (Kingsmead).

The service will commence with the first Test against England in Durban on Saturday and will conclude at the end of the third T20 against Australia in Cape Town in March next year.

“We are always looking at new ways to enhance the experience of our fans and stakeholders,” said CSA Chief Executive, Haroon Lorgat.

“Fan and stakeholder research plays a big part in our planning and with parking and traffic related issues being identified as one of the key challenges at stadiums around the country, we needed to find a solution.

“I’m grateful to Uber for responding to our challenge and look forward to our fans making use of Uber’s special services to enjoy every Proteas match,” concluded Lorgat.

Uber will provide a 10% discount to all fans making use of Uber to and from every cricket match – unique discount codes to activate the discounts will be provided via email, sms and on social media.

In addition, those who have not yet used Uber will receive, up to the value of R100, a free first ride in any city in South Africa where Uber operates. To redeem this first time free ride simply download the Uber application and enter the promotional code, CRICKETSA.

Alon Lits, General Manager for Uber, Sub-Saharan Africa says “This is the first partnership of its kind in South Africa and we are excited to be partnering with Cricket South Africa. The Proteas and the game of cricket are much loved by all South African’s and we are proud to offer cricket fans safe and reliable rides to and from stadiums across the country.”

Fans will benefit from a dedicated drop off and pick up area at stadiums, making access easier in and out of stadiums.  Sport24

REVIEW: Smartphone giants battle for your pocket

Three new Chinese smartphone manufacturers are actively targeting South Africans with the proposal that you can have a decent device without breaking the bank. By Duncan Alfreds, NewsAgency

However, devices from Xiaomi, ZTE and Hisense are not well known in SA and also face perceptions that “made in China” means a lower quality product.

Undoubtedly, the biggest mover is Xiaomi which has launched two devices: the Mi 4 flagship and the lower priced Redmi 2.

While the Redmi is pitched at consumers who want a lower priced smartphone, the device is not cheap, despite the plastic body. It also sports a Snapdragon 410 64-bit processor so it punches way above its weight in performance.

But the bragging rights for Xiaomi rests on the MIUI 6 operating system: while it is Android, it looks and feels different to standard Android flavours and is updated regularly.

Strong challenge

Applications icons are more elegantly designed and are neatly organised into folders. Google apps work the same so once you log in with your Google account, your contacts and calendar are all in sync.

For picture fans, an 8 megapixel (MP) shooter is more than enough for upload-to-Facebook images and you get a 2MP front facing selfie camera.

Xiaomi600x600
Xiaomi MI 4i smartphone

Like Samsung, the Redmi also features a simplified operation for the smartphone and the company also encourages you to create an Mi account.

This gives you access to internet cloud services as well the online store.

But Xiaomi has to face a strong challenge from ZTE, which already has over 6% market share in SA. The Blade L3 is a capable device that also bats above its price rating.

The phone runs a “purer” version of Google’s Android operating system (Lollipop) and you get a Mediatek quad core processor with 1GB of RAM.

The plastic removable cover feels as if it’s solidly build and the device sustained a number of unfortunate drops without damage.

Neat party trick

The camera is also an 8MP unit with 2MP secondary shooter which delivers acceptable images in low light as long as you have a steady hand.

In terms of software, you can programme soft buttons on the front and set shut down and reboot times.

The 2 000mAh battery delivered almost two days of use on one charge and the device was constantly being mistaken for far more expensive smartphones.

South Africans will be more familiar with Hisense as an appliance manufacturer, but the company has produced a number of smartphones for the local market.

The party trick of the H7 Pure Shot is that once you log in with your Google credentials, the phone automatically loads all your apps so they’re ready to go.

However, given the cost of data in SA, it’s wise do this when you’re in a Wi-Fi zone.

Features from the Pure Shot are also geared toward selfie fans with a secondary camera flash as well as an 85° lens. The main camera is rated at 13MP and delivered crisp images.

What they cost

It also has a similar-sized display (12.7cm or 5 inches) to the Blade L3 but larger than the Redmi 2 (11.9cm).

Under the skin of the Pure Shot though, is a Qualcomm Snapdragon octa-core processor mated to 2GB of RAM and this gives the gadget oomph for tough applications or … (ahem) games.

All three smartphones win in that you get dual SIM capability and expandable memory slots. The Hisense device has an elegant metal frame, Xiaomi focuses on customisation, and ZTE delivers value.

While it may be difficult to choose one winner, consumers will ultimately benefit as the cost of these phones make them strong contenders.

The Redmi 2 retails for R1 999, the H7 Pure Shot is R3 499, and the Blade L3 drops at R1 499. – Fin24

Nigeria won’t be cowed by MTN’s court action

The Nigerian government said it would neither be cowed nor threatened by MTN’s court action over the R59 billion ($3.9 billion) fine imposed on the South Africa-based mobile phone operator by the Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC), according to a report.


The Vanguard newspaper reported that the Nigerian Minister of Communications, Adebayo Shittu, made the statement in reaction to the legal suit instituted by South African firm in the Federal High Court in Lagos, Nigeria.

“It is the right of MTN to approach the court but there was an infraction, which MTN admitted to have committed before it pleaded for leniency that led to the reduction of the fine … and the subsequent December 31, 2015 deadline to  pay,” Victor Oluwadamilare, Special Assistant on Media for the Minister of Communications told the newspaper .

“If it has decided to go to court, it is still within the ambit of the law. I will not intervene, since they have gone to court, we will allow the court to decide if it is right for MTN to commit those infractions and breach the laws of the land. It is unwise for MTN to go to court after the Federal Government had magnanimously reduced the fine. It will surely be fined for violating the rule at the expiration of the deadline, should it fail to pay the initial fine,” said Oluwadamilare on behalf of the Minister.

Meanwhile, MTN, also insisted that its action was induced by commitment and belief in the long term sustainability of its business.

“The fine has potentially dire consequences for the company, its employees, partners, stakeholders as well as the entire Nigerian telecommunications industry,” MTN Nigeria’s human resources & corporate services xxecutive, Amina Oyagbola, told the Vanguard newspaper.

MTN was given a December 31 deadline to pay the fine for its failure to disconnect 5.2 million subscribers who did not register their SIM cards. But on Thursday announced it was planning to challenge in court a $3,9 billion fine imposed on it by the NCC.

The South African based mobile phone operator has hired seven Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SAN) to fight the R59 billion ($3.9 billion) fine imposed on it by the Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC), according to Africa Review

The mobile phone operator said it has followed due process and has instructed its lawyers to proceed with an action in the Federal High Court in Lagos seeking the appropriate reliefs.

MTN added that is advised that in the current circumstances in line with pending legal action the NCC is restrained from taking further action until the matter is finally determined.

The Africa Review said that MTN has acquired as lead lawyer Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), who is leading the others against the federal government and NCC before the Federal High Court in Lagos.

No date has been fixed for the hearing.

The debacle has resulted in MTN Nigeria’s CEO Michael Ikpoki and the head of Regulatory and Corporate Affairs Akinwale Goodluck to resign.

MTN  Group CEO Sifiso Dabengwa also tendered his resignation.

What is the ‘digital age of consent’?

Four years in the making, the European Union’s new data protection rules have finally been agreed by the European Council and await the approval of the European Parliament. But a last-minute addition has sparked a debate about responsibility and consent, by proposing to raise to 16 the “age of consent” under which it is illegal for organisations to handle the individual’s data. This would force younger teenagers to gain parental permission to access social networking sites such as Facebook, Snapchat, WhatsApp or Instagram. By Rebecca Wong, Nottingham Trent University

While raising this digital age of consent from 13 as it is in the US to 16 would strengthen the protections they receive, there are doubts about whether it would be enforceable. How would the firms behind social networks be able to verify their users’ ages, for example, or whether they had their parents’ permission? There are already Facebook and Instagram users below the age of 16, so that would entail potentially closing those accounts – how would this be policed?

Could parents or social network providers be prosecuted for allowing the under-16s to access a social network? The proposed new EU rules, the General Data Protection Regulation, would impose heavy fines (4% of annual turnover) for those organisations or firms that breach data protection laws, which means the likes of Facebook would have a great incentive to ensure they complied. But there are few obvious ways to do this.

Additionally, any ban may lead some teenagers to lie about their age in order to create or maintain an account, potentially putting them in more danger by pretending to be older than they are. Janice Richardson, former Co-ordinator of the European Safer Internet Network, said that denying the under-16s access to social media would “deprive young people of educational and social opportunities in a number of ways, yet would provide no more (and likely even less) protection”.

Sophisticated age verification software would be needed, such as scanning machine-readable documents such as passports. But would this be sufficient to satisfy the legal threshold? This would also introduce further problems with the need to acquire and store this sensitive data.

So many social networks to choose from. Twin Design/shutterstock.com

 

Informed consent

One of the chief concerns during the consultation process for the General Data Protection Regulation was the growth of social networking sites such as Facebook and how data protection rules applied to them. In November 2011, the then EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding said she was concerned about the growth of digital advertising and the lack of understanding of how it involved harvesting and analysis of personal information. These concerns led to the decision to update the Data Protection Directive to reflect the many changes in how we use the internet since it was passed in 1995.

While the preamble to the General Data Protection Regulation states that young people deserve protection as they may be less aware of risks and their rights in relation to their personal data, this appears to be a paternalistic view adopted by the European Commission.

For example, the Swedish Data Protection Board (similar to the UK Information Commissioner’s Office) conducted a study of 522 participants aged between 15-18 and found that the majority had experienced unkind words written about them, around a quarter were sexually harassed online, and half of those on Facebook had had their account hijacked. But it also found that the young people had a generally good understanding of privacy issues.

On the other hand, a study from Ofcom, the communications watchdog in the UK, found that teenagers couldn’t tell the difference between search results and adverts placed around them, demonstrating that young people’s understanding of how the web works, and the role of their personal data, is not always sufficient – and perhaps insufficient to represent real, informed consent.

Negotiations ultimately allowed member states to opt-out from the requirement to raise the digital age of consent, but issues remain. With an opt-out agreed, member state governments may lower the age to 13, which would cause confusion due to the way the internet functions across borders. Would a 15-year-old in one country find that his use of social media became illegal as he crossed the border into another?

Facebook, which started among US universities, was originally aimed at the over-17s before dropping its minimum age to 13, hugely expanding its number of users. But this move was not without difficulties, and an estimated 7.5m Facebook users are under the minimum age. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg wants the 13-year-old minimum removed altogether.

The question is, can such young teenagers or children take responsibility for holding social network accounts? While concerns around protecting teenagers from the potential dangers of social networking are well-intentioned, it seems rather that the genie is out of the bottle. Parental guidance and education is perhaps a better approach than applying the long arm of the law.

The ConversationRebecca Wong, Senior Lecturer in Intellectual Property and Cyberlaw, Nottingham Trent University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Hoverboards and health: how good for you is this year’s hottest trend?

Walking across campus to my office each morning this semester, I’ve found it hard to ignore the growing number of students using hoverboards to get around. These two-wheel self-balancing boards (they don’t really hover, Back-to-the-Future-style) are one of the hottest gadgets this holiday season. By Andrew Maynard, Arizona State University


I’m probably just being a curmudgeon, but my first reaction as I saw students hoverboarding between classes was “Why?!”

As sedentary lifestyles continue to be a major underlying factor in chronic conditions like type 2 diabetes and heart disease, I wondered whether these trendy two-wheelers are simply another way to avoid the exercise we all need to stay healthy. After the novelty wears off, will hoverboards become just one more device we use to cut activity out of our daily lives?

Eat my hovering dust. Dennis D, CC BY-NC-ND

Perhaps not surprisingly, there’s pretty much nothing known yet about the relative merits of hoverboarding compared to walking between locations (or in the case of many students, skateboarding). The technology’s cool-appeal is still way ahead of questions like “Is it healthy?”

And as it turns out, chronic disease is currently the least of the budding hoverboarder’s worries. Over the past few months, videos of hoverboard slips and spills have become rife. These are amusing enough, if you’re into watching other people’s pratfalls. But they also illuminate a problem of serious injury from inexpert board use.

In a quick analysis of health care service provider records, pediatrician Hannah Galvin found a sharp upturn in patients seen for hoverboard incidents from September to November this year. Many of these were associated with teenagers. And a US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) spokesperson recently flagged a rapid rise in hoverboard-related hospital visits, in an interview with CBS News.

And this is not just a US issue. Tragically, a teenager riding a hoverboard was hit and killed by a bus in London recently. And in the UK, the organization Citizens Advice recently tweeted that they’d dealt with 250 problems in December alone.

Hoverboard injuries have become such a prominent issue that Elliot Kane, chairman of the CPSC, recently issued a statement saying, “I do not want to downplay the fall hazard.” The statement went on to emphasize the importance of wearing safety gear when using hoverboards – something that doesn’t seem to have trickled down to most users yet.

Kane’s statement also highlights a more visible hoverboard hazard, though – and one that’s been dominating the media over the past few weeks: the possibility of your cherished board spontaneously going up in flames.

The trouble, it seems, lies with the less-than-safe lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries that some models use. Overcharging, physical stress or shorting can lead to these overheating and rupturing, sometimes with disastrous consequences.

Despite the novelty of hoverboards, the dangers of Li-ion batteries are not new. Over the years, they’ve been responsible for fire hazards in products ranging from laptop computers to the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. They’re a technology that, if used responsibly, is reasonably safe. But they’re highly susceptible to becoming a safety risk if shoddily made, misused or mistreated.

It may turn out that hoverboards demand better Li-ion battery design and use standards for them to remain safe, and that what we’re now seeing are the early warnings of not-quite-there technology. Or it may simply be that some unscrupulous companies are cutting corners to cash in on consumer demand.

Either way, it’s likely that recalibration of regulations and guidelines around hoverboard use will eventually lead to increased safety over time – hopefully without too many people being injured in the process.

Come on, keep those paws moving. Franklin Heijnen, CC BY-SA

 

It may be that, once the safety issues are ironed out, hoverboards will be no worse health-wise than walking to where you’re going. And as a bonus, they may provide unusual ways of getting your workout in.

For instance, hoverboard user Justin Rankin suggests that riding one isn’t as passive as it might seem. “Even when I’m standing on the hoverboard doing absolutely nothing, I can feel muscles firing and increased heart rate,” he writes in a recent blog at LAGlyders.

And searching YouTube for “Hoverboard workouts” reveals a growing – if occasionally bizarre – catalog of ways in which people are using these devices to keep fit!

Whether the workout you get while hoverboarding from A to B is comparable to a brisk walk remains to be seen. I still wonder whether the desire to get around faster, and with less effort, doesn’t take just a little away from the simple pleasure of taking a few minutes to stretch your legs.

Then again, maybe I’m just showing my age.

The Conversation

Andrew Maynard, Director, Risk Innovation Lab, Arizona State University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Hackers target ‘easy’ African countries

 African countries are being actively targeted by cyber criminals, a security company has found. According to data from Check Point, eight countries in Africa are among the top 20 targeted globally out of 140 countries examined in October and November. By Duncan Alfreds, NewsAgency

“We’re seeing an ongoing trend of cyber criminals exploiting weaker security controls in less developed African nations to target their more advanced counterparts,” said Doros Hadjizenonos, country manager of Check Point South Africa.

Tanzania was the most targeted African country with Namibia second, Cameroon (3rd), Mauritius (6th) and Tunisia (7th) in the top 10. South Africa slipped from 63rd to 67th.

Hadjizenonos said the rise of mobile devices in the workplace has given hackers the opportunity to attack companies.

“The rise in mobile malware also highlights the growing need for organisations to protect their employees’ mobile devices, which process and carry valuable corporate data. Attackers have realised that these devices are an easier target compared with corporate networks, so it’s critical that organisations deploy protection to prevent them being exploited and stop data leakage.”

Top three malware

The company identified 1 200 malware families used to carry out cyber attacks and found that two – Conficker and Necurs – focus on disabling security services on networks.

This facilitates easier access for downloads of other malicious software programs, increasing the vulnerability of the network.

“The data for November highlights the fact that attackers are focusing their efforts on malware that can disable security services and infect machines stealthily so they can be more easily exploited,” said Hadjizenonos.

The top three malware families accounted for 40% of attacks.

Conficker accounted for 20% of attacks. Computers infected with the malware are controlled by a botnet. This gives criminals the ability to control the machine and disable network security.

Cutwail botnet is used for sending spam and launching DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attacks and Necurs is able to avoid detection as well download additional malware on to computers.

“Organisations face a daily battle to ensure that their networks are not compromised by cybercriminals and it is vital that they know what they are up against,” Hadjizenonos said.

Check Point discovered that malware increased by 17% during November with Xinyin, Ztorgand AndroRAT being the top three malware families.

“There were approximately double the amount of attacks compared to the previous month, and for AndoRAT the increase was tenfold. All three variants target Android devices,” the company said. – Fin24

What’s the real risk from consumer drones this holiday season?

This holiday season, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is estimating that over one million small “Unmanned Aerial Systems” (sUAS’s) – drones, to the rest of us – will be sold to consumers. But as hordes of novice pilots take to the air, just how safe are these small bundles of metal, plastic, video cameras and whirling blades? By 


A few weeks ago, a British toddler lost an eye as an out-of-control drone sliced into his face. It may have been a freak occurrence, but it hammered home the message that sUASs – at least in some hands – can be accidents waiting to happen.

This hasn’t escaped the attention of the FAA. Earlier this year, the agencyconvened a task force in the US on overseeing UAS safe use with a legally enforceable registration system.

Let’s get this thing in the air! Cola Richmond, CC BY-ND
Tracking who’s doing what with drones makes sense for commercial users. But there are fears it could put the brakes on a booming consumer drone market. So the task force set out to determine where a line could be drawn between safe (and therefore not regulated) drones and those that required more oversight.

In an impressive display of numerical dexterity, the task force – which included manufacturers and retailers like Parrot, Best Buy and Walmart – calculated the likelihood of a small consumer drone inadvertently killing someone.

Through their mathematical machinations, they concluded that a drone weighing 250 grams (just under nine ounces) is likely to kill fewer than one person per 20 million flight-hours.

Putting aside the many assumptions made to reach this figure, the risk sounds pretty low. That is, until you consider that a million new drone operators this holiday period each wouldn’t need to rack up that many flight hours before the chances of someone being killed got serious.

The FAA has just announced new drone registration guidelines based on the task force recommendations – and yes, if you own a drone weight less that 250 grams, you don’t need to register it. (If it’s between 0.55 pounds and 55 pounds, though, you’ll have to register online before taking to the air.)

The registration weight cutoff is based on the calculated chances of a fatal drone encounter. At least as worrying, though, are the nonfatal threats – the chances of physical injury from out-of-control or badly operated drones, or the much talked about Peeping Tom users who treat their sUAS as a second pair of prying eyes.

And then you have the dangers of drones getting where they were never meant to be – into the flight paths of aircraft, for instance. In under two years, 246 manned aircraft close encounters with quadropters were recorded by the Bard College Center for the Study of the Drone. And that’s before the surge in drone ownership we’re expecting to see over the next few weeks.

Retailers and professional organizations – and to give them their fair dues, the FAA – have been quick to try to fill safety gaps around lightweight consumer drones. Best Buy, for example, has recently teamed up with the Academy of Model Aeronautics to provide new drone customers with a guide to responsible flying. And the FAA has a preflight checklist to encourage safe use.

These voluntary initiatives will certainly help reduce the chances of emergency care visits this holiday. But they work on the assumption that consumers actually want to be responsible in the first place.

As drone popularity increases, we’re going to have to get more creative if the risks to people and property are to remain acceptable. Despite the new registration requirements for larger drones, regulations are going to remain several steps behind the technology for some time, and “guides to responsible flying,“ while laudable, won’t do much to curb an excess of irresponsibility – or simple lack of awareness – in some pilots.

Instead, manufacturers, retailers, regulators and other organizations need to get better at finding innovative ways to create a culture of safe use. It isn’t enough to tell consumers to be responsible this holiday; safe flying needs to become the norm.

Of course, it’s possible to argue that the odd eye, or the occasional death, is a worthy price to pay for what the Academy of Model Aeronautics calls“The most fun you can have (without a license)” – so why be a party pooper with all this talk of risk and responsibility?

What did you see up there? ArnoldReinhold, CC BY-SA

Unfortunately, the more drones are involved in accidents, the harder it will become for manufacturers to keep the market for their products buoyant. And the more likely it will be that regulators end up acting to limit the technology’s use.

This doesn’t bode well for the future of amateur drone operators. But there’s a more worrying potential consequence, and that’s to future socially beneficial uses of drones.

Commercial drones are getting increasingly close to providing services such as helping care for the elderly, or getting medical services and supplies to remote locations, or improving crop yields. Even Amazon’s much-touted drone delivery service is likely to be advantageous to some.

Yet if public perceptions and regulations end up being swayed by amateur users, applications like these are likely to hit a roadblock in their development.

And this is perhaps the most important safety issue this holiday season – not the small chance of injury, but the bigger risk of losing the best the technology can offer in the future. All because we were having the most fun we could without a license, without thinking about the consequences.

Is the robot revolution really coming?

The world has gone mad for robots with articles talking almost every day about the coming of the robot revolution. But is all the hype, excitement and sometimes fear justified? Is the robot revolution really coming? By 


The answer is probably that in some areas of our lives we will see more robots soon. But realistically, we are not going to see dozens of robots out and about in our streets or wandering around our offices in the very near future.

One of the main reasons is simply that robots do not yet have the ability to really see the world. But before talking about how robots of the future might see, first we should consider what we actually mean by seeing.

I see you

Most of us have two eyes and we use those eyes to collect light that reflects off the objects around us. Our eyes convert that light it into electrical signals that are sent down our optic nerves, which are immediately processed by our brain.

Our brain somehow works out what is around us from all of those electrical impulses and from our experiences. It builds up a representation of the world and we use that to navigate, to help us pick things up, to enable us to see one another’s faces, and to do a million other things we take for granted.

That whole activity, from collecting the light in our eyes, to having an understanding of the world around us, is what is meant by seeing.

Researchers have estimated that up to 50% of our brain is involved in the process of seeing. Nearly all of the world’s animals have eyes and can see in some way. Most of these animals, insects in particular, have far simpler brains than humans and they function well.

This shows that some forms of seeing can be achieved without the massive computer power of our mammal brains. Seeing has clearly been determined to be quite useful by evolution.

Robot vision

It is therefore unsurprising that many robotics researchers predict that if a robot can see, we are likely to actually see a boom in robotics and robots may finally become the helpers of humans that so many people have desired.

 Early days: A vacuum cleaner that can ‘see’ where it needs to clean.

How then do we get a robot to see? The first part is straightforward. We use a video camera, just like the one in your smart phone, to collect a constant stream of images. Camera technology for robots is a large research field in itself but for now just think of a standard video camera. We pass those images to a computer and then we have options.

Since the 1970s, robot vision engineers have thought about features in images. These might be lines, or interesting points like corners or certain textures. The engineers write algorithms to find these features and track them from image frame to image frame in the video stream.

This step is essentially reducing the amount of data from the millions of pixels in an image to a few hundred or thousand features.

In the recent past when computing power was limited, this was an essential step in the process. The engineers then think about what the robot is likely to see and what it will need to do. They write software that will recognise patterns in the world to help the robot understand what is around it.

The local environment

The software may create a very basic map of the environment as the robot operates or it may try to match the features that it finds with a library of features that the software is looking for.

In essence the robots are being programmed by a human to see things that a human thinks the robot is going to need to see. There have been many successful examples of this type of robot vision system, but practically no robot that you find today is capable of navigating in the world using vision alone.

Such systems are not yet reliable enough to keep a robot from bumping or falling long enough to give the robot a practical use. The driverless cars that are talked about in the media either use lasers or radar to supplement their vision systems.

In the past five to ten years a new robot vision research community has started to take shape. These researchers have demonstrated systems that are not programmed as such but instead learn how to see.

They have developed robot vision systems whose structure is inspired by how scientists think animals see. That is they use the concept of layers of neurons, just like in an animal brain. The engineers program the structure of the system but they do not develop the algorithm that runs on that system. That is left to the robot to work out for itself.

This technique is known as machine learning and because we now have easy access to significant computer power at a reasonable cost, these techniques are beginning to work! Investment in these technologies is accelerating fast.

The hive mind

The significance of having robots learn is that they can easily share their learning. One robot will not have to learn from scratch like a newborn animal. A new robot can be given the experiences of other robots and can build upon those.

One robot may learn what a cat looks like and transfer that knowledge to thousands of other robots. More significantly, one robot may solve a complex task such as navigating its way around a part of a city and instantly share that with all the other robots.

Equally important is that robots which share experiences may learn together. For example, one thousand robots may each observe a different cat, share that data with one another via the internet and together learn to classify all cats. This is an example of distributed learning.

The fact that robots of the future will be capable of shared and distributed learning has profound implications and is scaring some, while exciting others.

It is quite possible that your credit card transactions are being checked for fraud right now by a data centre self-learning machine. These systems can spot possible fraud that no human could ever detect. A hive mind being used for good.

The real robot revolution

There are numerous applications for robots that can see. It’s hard not to think of a part of our life where such a robot could not help.

The first uses of robots that can see are likely to be in industries that either have labour shortage issues, such as agriculture, or are inherently unattractive to humans and maybe hazardous.

Examples include searching through rubble after disasters, evacuating people from dangerous situations or working in confined and difficult to access spaces.

Applications that require very long period of attention, something humans find hard, will also be ripe to be done by a robot that can see. Our future home-based robot companions will be far more useful if they can see us.

And in an operating theatre near you, it is soon likely that a seeing robot will be assisting surgeons. The robot’s superior vision and super precise and steady arms and hands will allow surgeons to focus on what they are best at – deciding what to do.

Even that decision-making ability may be superseded by a hive mind of robot doctors. The robots will have it all stitched up!

MTN lined up top lawyers for Nigerian battle

MTN, Africa’s largest mobile phone operator, have assembled high profile lawyers to argue their case in Federal High Court in Lagos, Nigeria. By Staff Writer


The South African based mobile phone operator has hired seven Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SAN) to fight the R59 billion ($3.9 billion) fine imposed on it by the Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC), according to Africa Review

MTN was given a December 31 deadline to pay the fine for its failure to disconnect 5.2 million subscribers who did not register their SIM cards. But on Thursday announced it was planning to challenge in court a $3,9 billion fine imposed on it by the NCC.

The mobile phone operator said it has followed due process and has instructed its lawyers to proceed with an action in the Federal High Court in Lagos seeking the appropriate reliefs.

MTN added that is advised that in the current circumstances in line with pending legal action the NCC is restrained from taking further action until the matter is finally determined.

The Africa Review said that MTN has acquired as lead lawyer Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), who is leading the others against the federal government and NCC before the Federal High Court in Lagos.

No date has been fixed for the hearing.

The debacle has resulted in MTN Nigeria’s CEO Michael Ikpoki and the head of Regulatory and Corporate Affairs Akinwale Goodluck to resign.

MTN  Group CEO Sifiso Dabengwa also tendered his resignation