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The Internet of Things is here!

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By LUKORITO JONES
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With human beings becoming increasingly reliant on their technological devices to run their lives, the latest exciting trend in the homes market is the emergence of smart homes.

These homes are filled with appliances and fixtures that share data among each other in order to fully automate their operations.

“Imagine being able to control most of your home devices when you are away.

You find that through a single application on your phone, you can vacuum your house, power on the refrigerator and shut the curtains back at home.

You can also monitor your property and be alerted by video should any intruders get into your compound. Such homes are becoming increasingly popular in Kenya,” says Mr Joseph Mwamba, a computer scientist, network engineer and IT consultant.

“When the internet was invented, it connected people in that it allowed them to communicate with each other and share information.

Thus, it was the internet of people. However, the future is shaping up to be the Internet of Things (IoT), where gadgets and home appliances get to communicate with each other and share information about their surroundings,” Mr Mwamba explains.

He makes an educated estimate that by the end of next year, 50 billion devices will be connected to each other through the internet.

In the Internet of Things, Mr Mwamba expounds, ordinary home gadgets and appliances like home theatres, door knobs, and shower heads are given the ability to sense their surroundings.

They will sense pressure, temperatures, shapes, movements and even particular smells.

The gadgets are also being endowed with the ability to communicate with each other and share the data they receive from their surroundings.

Your security camera, for example, might deduce that you are in a melancholic mood from your facial expressions and communicate with your sound system, which will then play soothing music to calm you down.

One company paving the way for the internet of things is Samsung. Mr Samuel Odhiambo, Head of Consumer Electronics at Samsung East Africa, reveals that the company announced a major step toward that vision with the consolidated SmartThings Cloud, which brought together all of Samsung’s IoT devices and services under a single, seamless platform.

Mr Odhiambo admits that we are still at the nascent stages when it comes to exploiting the benefits of IoT but reveals that Samsung Electronics is at the forefront of the unfolding revolution.

He says, “Mobile technology was designed to be taken everywhere, keeping us connected no matter where we go.

At Samsung, we have tried to ensure that the technology not only integrates with home appliances but also with our cars and security systems.

Last year, Samsung launched the SmartThings Cloud, a platform that brings all our IoT devices and services in one platform where a user can control them using a single app.”

“We are looking at a scenario where SmartThings sensors will be able to do simple things such as adjusting room temperatures and switch on lights, to complex functions such as regulating an entire home’s Wi-Fi and energy consumption,” the Samsung executive continues.

Some Samsung IoT devices are readily available in the local market. Of particular mention, however, is Samsung’s Q-LED TV that has the ability to change its colour so as to suit its surroundings.

The TV can be used as a screen to view footage from around the house and inside the refrigerator, as well as a centre for directing other appliances in the home.

Its remote control can also be used to control other devices such as the sound system and the DVD player.

The company also has in its catalogue a smart refrigerator that monitors the number of food items placed in it and alerts users once a particular item, say, milk, is running low. The refrigerator can also suggest recipes depending on the ingredients available at the time.

Another company that is leveraging on IoT to transform Kenyan homes is city-based Tech Access.

Tech Access CEO George Ndungu says the company has been operating in the past four years, carving out a niche for itself in home automation services for residential and commercial property.

An emerging trend in the IoT scene, Mr Ndungu says, is the use of wireless devices as opposed to the now outdated cable set-up. “When we started, a lot of our clients did not trust the wireless home integration method, as they argued that using cables provides more security to their devices.

We have since managed to break through this myth, convincing our clients that the wireless model is the most secure and robust. There is little risk of hacking, as the network on which the devices are connected is heavily encrypted,” says Mr Ndungu.

Mr Ndungu’s company provides a range of devices and sensors that are battery-powered. The batteries, he points out, reduce the need for cabling and last more than a year before a change is required.

“The absence of cabling also makes the devices relatively easy to install. Most of our clients do the installations on their own with just a little technical advice from us,” he adds.

Innovative light bulbs are some of the devices that Tech Access offers for its smart lighting solutions. The bulb, Mr Ndungu demonstrates, can be controlled through any computer, a smartphone app or a remote control.

One can manipulate the bulbs and cause them to either dim or brighten. A room’s ambience can also be enhanced by changing the lighting to a colour that fits the mood.

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“The light bulbs are also fitted with motion sensors and can be set to only go on when a room or hallway is occupied. This leads to savings on one one’s electricity bill. Also, if one is staying away from home for a few days, they can schedule their light bulbs to go on and off at pre-programmed times to give the illusion of home occupancy an hence staving off would-be intruders. The lights can also be scheduled to go on at a certain time in the morning, hence waking up the home residents,” the CEO continues.

Mr Ndungu demonstrated a sensor that, when attached to a door, turns it into a smart door.

The sensor sends alerts to the homeowner via SMS, e-mail and phone notifications whenever the door is opened when they are not in the vicinity.

Thus, if a homeowner was waiting for a guest to arrive while they were away, they will be notified of the guest’s arrival.

Doors can also be fitted with digital door locks, which allow one to lock or open their door from anywhere in the world using their phone.

Another additional item to the entrance might include a wireless video interface doorbell that comes with a camera and takes photos and videos of people who show up at the door unannounced.

You can also control the time electric appliances like the television, fridge and the washing machine power on and off. This, Mr Ndungu explains, can be done by installing special sensors in your electrical outlets. This gives one the ability to power on the sockets remotely and also get notifications when the sockets are powered. It is convenient when there is a need to monitor children’s screen time, Mr Ndungu notes.

Other additional sensors include smoke and heat sensors that sound an alarm and notify the owner if there is a danger of fire. Water-leak sensors, connected to the housing’s plumbing, will come in handy should a pipe in the house start leaking.

 “Turning your home into a smart-home need not be expensive. One can start with, say, smart bulbs, and add other amenities like the smart door later on. The sensors and devices are usually installed as add-ons to existing fixtures, thus saving on costs,” Mr Ndungu explains.

Mr Joseph Mwamba points out that one of the problems that arise with IoT devices is the issue of compatibility. The technology guru explains that since many companies are struggling to bring their own smart products into the market, such products may not be able to communicate with each other, which defeats the entire purpose of interconnectivity.

Samsung’s Mr Odhiambo admits that this may be a major hindrance to the adoption of IoT, but reveals that device manufacturers foresaw the problem and have already come up with measures to ascertain compatibility. “For example, at Samsung, we have made steps towards the democratisation of IoT by opening up space for other developers to connect their devices to our SmartThings platform,” he says.

Mr Ndungu from Tech Access points out that all the sensors and devices installed by his company can be accessed from a single platform or one application on the homeowner’s smartphone. He, however, cautions against purchasing IoT devices from different manufacturers as they may not be compatible to communicate with each other, thus requiring different points of control and this may become cumbersome.

“Devices that are part of the IoT,” Mr Mwamba points out, “collect a lot of data from their users. This data, should it get to the wrong hands, could be used to manipulate the masses into purchasing certain products, making certain lifestyle decisions and even, as has been seen with Facebook in the recent years, vote in a certain direction. Who is to say that the data collected by your thermostat, for example, will not be used for nefarious purposes?” he poses.

Mr Mwamba further adds that the government needs to pass tougher rules and regulations that will govern any device with the ability to communicate and send data through the internet.

To this, Samsung East Africa’s head of consumer electronics replies that all their smart products are usually certified by the Communications Authority of Kenya before they are deployed to the market. “We take great care not to collect any information from our consumers that contain identifiable tracts that could trace to a particular individual. We also have an encryption system that ensures should data be intercepted by a third party, they would not be able to decode it,” Mr Odhiambo assures, before adding that Samsung never sells its consumer data to third parties.

Cybersecurity will always be a looming threat in today’s internet era. The thought that someone might hack into your television and in so doing gain the ability to spy on you and your family is frightening. “There was a case in the USA where a baby monitor was hacked and used to spy on the family,” Mr Mwamba recalls, referring to isolated incidents earlier this year when a South Carolina mother complained that her baby monitor had been hacked.

“Let us not forget the WikiLeaks dossiers that proved to us that the CIA (America’s Central Intelligence Agency) may have hacked into people’s smart TVs and used them to spy on the citizens,” Mr Mwamba continues.

Mr Odhiambo admits that threat of hacking will not go away. He, however, assures that product manufacturers are working hard to always stay one step ahead of the hackers so as to minimise these risks.

On the point of hacking, Mr Ndungu says that it is very difficult to hack an efficient IoT home device. He says, “Most of the cases that we have experienced have been instances of social hacking. This means that a majority of people who will infiltrate your devices are those who come into contact with your mobile device or people to whom you inadvertently reveal your password. As such, we always advocate for our clients to change their passwords as often as possible.”

What does the future of IoT look like? According to Mr Odhiambo, no one can ever really paint an accurate picture of how artificial intelligence machines will interact with humans 10 years from now.

“All I can say is that the future will be marvellous!” he remarks.



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Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard

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Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.

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However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
SEE ALSO: Thinking inside the cardboard box for post-lockdown work stations
Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
SEE ALSO: Working from home could be blessing in disguise for persons with disabilities
Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.

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Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard

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President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
SEE ALSO: Sakaja resigns from Covid-19 Senate committee, in court tomorrow

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Drastic life changes affecting mental health

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Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.

KBC Radio_KICD Timetable

Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.

Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.

The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.

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With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.

In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020.  It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.

A study by Dr. Habil Otanga,  a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says  that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.

KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.

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Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.

As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.

“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”

Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.

“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.

Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.

“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”

Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.

“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.

Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.

Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.

She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.

Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.

“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added

Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.

“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and  also engage in   reading that would  help expand their knowledge.

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