Wesley Diphoko, Head of the Independent Digital Lab (02 June 2017)

CAPE TOWN - It has recently been reported that Apple, the giant technology company, is creating a medical clinic. Why would a technology company that sells digital devices create a medical clinic?

According to job postings about the clinic, Apple now has a subsidiary known as AC Wellness, which is a dedicated independent medical group that serves Apple Wellness Centres in Santa Clara Valley.

In addition to making sure that Apple employees have everything they need to remain healthy, there's also a possibility that Apple could use this subsidiary to test new health devices and services.

Recently, Apple created a health app for the Apple Watch.

When one considers the health app, Apple’s focus on health research and now the Apple clinic it is easy to come to the conclusion that Apple may become a big player in the health sector.

This is just one example of a technology company that is showing signs of going beyond technology as a brick-and-mortar existence.

To understand what Apple is working towards you have to look at Amazon, which is another major technology company.

Amazon is on a mission to redefine the brick-and-mortar businesses that it disrupted out of existence.

Last year in May 2017, Amazon opened its first brick-and-mortar bookstore in New York City, in Columbus Circle. This year, Amazon opened its flagship convenience store known as Amazon Go.

With its Amazon Go convenience store, Amazon is pioneering retail stores with no checkout lines. This is a game-changer for the brick-and-mortar retail sector as the technology used at Amazon Go can be retrofitted to any store with its artificial intelligence (AI)-powered item tracking system.

It is the world's most advanced shopping technology so consumers never have to wait in line. It is the Just Walk Out Shopping experience, simply use an app to enter the store, take the products you want, and go! No lines, no checkout.

This checkout-free shopping experience is made possible by the same types of technologies used in self-driving cars: computer vision, sensor fusion and deep learning.

The technology automatically detects when products are taken from or returned to the shelves and keeps track of them in a virtual cart.

When the consumer is done shopping, they can just leave the store. Shortly thereafter the shop sends a receipt and charges the consumer's account.

Manifestation

In the past, everything was intangible and driven mainly by software. Now there’s a move towards turning physical realm, bricks-and-mortar structures into software-driven objects. Think pop-up stores, which are created temporarily to create a physical manifestation of an online store in the physical world.

This move is not just limited to buildings and products, but also entire regions such as cities. Recently, Google initiated a process of creating new cities and they started an experiment in Toronto, Canada, through their Sidewalk Labs project.

The Sidewalk Labs project in Toronto seeks to blend people-centred urban design with cutting-edge technology to achieve new standards of sustainability, affordability, mobility, and economic opportunity within a regional area, thereby creating a smart city.

The belief behind this move is that the core of a future city with a layer of digital infrastructure providing ubiquitous connectivity for all offers new insights on the urban environment and encourages creation and collaboration to address local challenges.

We're now entering an exciting period of rebuilding through digital infrastructure.

The technology used on devices and other physical objects is now being used to recreate the physical world.

Current thinking is that the application of digital infrastructure should focus on cities and health centres to create smart cities and smart health care and this is necessary.

In the African context, there’s also a need to consider the same approach in rebuilding areas that were previously ignored, such as townships.

Digital

The recent calls to further develop townships in South Africa beyond just spaza shops and salons should take into account the application of digital infrastructure.

In the African continent, the convergence of online and off-line should not just be implemented in retail, cities and health centres.

It should also lead to the creation of smart townships driven by software.

Trading, access to information and government services should be enabled through digital means. This may mean creating smart townships by building homes, business centres and community centres that are digital-enabled.

The future is moving towards recreating the off-line world through digital means and this is an opportunity for further economic development that should not be missed by technologists thinking about the future and the development of the African continent.

Wesley Diphoko is the chief innovation officer at Sagarmatha Technologies and the founder of Kaya Labs. He spends his time developing building blocks for Silicon Africa and thinking about the Fourth Industrial Revolution in Africa.

-BUSINESS REPORT