From spacey neon colours to synth-laden soundtracks, the aesthetic of the 1980s left an indelible mark on human culture, and nostalgia for the era is evident in contemporary media.
However, the decade of Oxford shirts, scrunchies and leg warmers also gave us some of the most important and influential technological innovations of the 20th century, including the compact disc or CD, the Microsoft Windows operating system, and the progenitor of home automation known as the Clapper, which allowed users hands-free control over their home lighting. Many of these developments were informed by ontology, of bringing together the real and the ideal and signified rapidly changing worldviews that pervaded everything from the arts to science.
In 1986 in Johannesburg, a new start-up – known at the time as Centurion Power – developed an innovation that would embody the notion of technology as a driver of social change in the context of a changing South Africa.
That innovation was one of the country’s first fully functioning gate motors and, in this slightly longer article, we asked two of CENTURION’s engineers how this technology has made, and continues to make, life easier.
In a broad sense, what role does technology play in fulfilling societal needs?
Stuart Kirkman (mechanical R & D manager) I think to answer this question we need to understand that one of the foundation blocks to our wellbeing is the feeling of safety. When we feel safe we are able to help others that are maybe more vulnerable than ourselves. Technology allows us to develop systems that we can put in place that gives us that feeling of safety. So, when you have technology enabling your safety we can then direct our focus to helping others less fortunate rather than focusing on protecting yourself.
Michael Blackman (head of Research and Development): Technology changes the way in which individuals communicate, work and live. Individuals may look at technology from the very advanced state that it is in today, but every technological improvement has had some impact on the way we live since the beginning of time. In the current day and age, technology is moving very rapidly and in a sense is making the world a smaller place to live in.
Communicating with friends, family or co-workers in other countries is as easy as a quick text message, voice message, email, voice call or even a FaceTime call. From a work perspective, it is easy to work in segregated teams all over the world on the same projects, without losing much time on these projects. The flow of information and ideas is easily shared on various platforms.
Technology has not only made communication significantly easier, it has made a lot of other mundane tasks easier and has even replaced some repetitive tasks that humans do not necessarily want to do. In an ideal world, technology is put in place to make all of our lives easier.
How does gate automation fit into this?
MB: As mentioned earlier, the key aspect when it comes to technology and gate automation is that we want to use technology to make the lives of our clients easier. With the development of gate automation, the industry has removed the need for individuals to physically open their gates for themselves. This is not only convenient, but also provides security for the end-user as they are less exposed to criminal elements by not having to exit their vehicles to open their gates. It is not only the criminal elements that have an impact on the end-user: weather can also make getting out of your vehicle to open the gate an inconvenience. We have gone further than just using technology to open and close a gate; we have used technology to better diagnose issues on site as well as make it easier for the installer to configure and commission our gate motors. These technological advancements equate to time saved and ultimately a better overall experience for the installer as well as the end-user.
In terms of design, application and functionality, what are your priorities when developing a new solution?
SK: For me the application is the starting point; you don’t want to miss the mark on this one, otherwise your solution isn’t going to meet the customer’s needs. Once you have the application nailed down, then there is a constant evolution between design and functionality. They have to complement each other for your product to be successful.
MB: When we develop new products, the most important step is to try and understand what the market wants and what problems we are trying to solve for our customers. Once we have this information, we can start developing ideas as to how we will deliver on the customer expectations and possibly delight them with functionality that they may not have even considered. For us, we know that product reliability is a must. As designers, we ensure that products are designed in such a way as to minimise the number of components (reducing the possibility of failure), ensure that the assembly is intuitive and can’t be done incorrectly (poke yoke) and then the product is tested to ensure that it stands up to the specifications set out. All of these have to be kept in mind during the product development stage. We also have to consider how our customers (installers and end-users) will interface with our product. This not only speaks to how easy it is to physically install the product, but also to how intuitive the product is to commission and use. If we manage to focus on these areas during the initial design phase, it is very probable that the product will be a success.
How has CENTURION’s technology evolved over the years to meet emergent threats to security and peace of mind?
SK: As our systems get more advanced, so do the criminals. It is very difficult and not always possible but CENTURION has always tried to be a step ahead of the criminals, you almost have to think like a criminal and imagine how they would likely attack a system to be able to design it and stay one step ahead. Unfortunately, you cannot always think of every possibility out there to safeguard your system, so when an attack occurs and catches you off guard, then the most important factor is how quickly can you react and safeguard the system under attack. This is where CENTURION has an advantage over many of our competitors: we are very agile and have the ability to react extremely quickly.
MB: CENTURION has always ensured that we build and develop reliable products. As technology has progresses, we have ensured that the encryption used is relevant to the product and that it is not easy to bypass the various security aspects incorporated into our products. We have also taken into consideration the need for personal safety. This could relate to being able to quickly open or close the gate behind you (drive for higher gate speeds) while at the same time being able to get the gate to react to collisions which could cause damage or physical harm. Technology has enabled us to better control the gate motor as well as being more sensitive to collisions at these higher speeds.
We have also been able to incorporate alarm functionality into our latest gate motors, which is capable of sending out an alarm signal to an external device to ensure that you or your alarm company is notified if someone is trying to force the gate open or is trying to steal the gate motor. This extra layer of security ensures peace of mind for the end-user.
CENTURION’s solutions are developed in South Africa; do you think that this gives them an advantage, especially considering that they are installed all over the world?
MB: There are many aspects to South Africa that influence how we develop our products. Unfortunately, not all of these things are favourable, but they do result in a CENTURION product having to be designed for things that are not a necessity in other countries around the world. An example may be theft or forced entry into the property. Centurion Systems designs gate motors to withstand very high forced entry loads, although this may be necessary for South Africa, it does mean that our products are robust. We design for harsh weather conditions, which ensures that products are capable of experiencing harsh UV radiation and high temperatures without affecting the operation of the products. We have coastal regions with high corrosion, which results in our engineers paying close attention to the materials that are selected for the products in order to ensure that they are suitable for the environments that they will be used in.
CENTURION’s brand essence is making life easier; how do our products put this into practice? What are some of the technologies used to simplify interactions with the technology from both an installer and end-user perspective?
SK: The making life easier philosophy actually starts from the initial proof of concept of a product.
This philosophy is carried throughout the process of the product design cycle: we make life easier for the assembler by designing an easily assembled product, a tremendous amount of effort goes into making the installer’s life easier by designing products that are easy to install and commission. Recently, we developed a cellular phone application that connects to our SMART range of products via a wireless connection.
This technology enables the installer to easily set up the product using a very intuitive, user-friendly app. This app is constantly evolving to suit the demands of our customers, which in turn allows us to enhance the products features via a wirelss connection at no additional costs to our end users.
We have made the life of our end-user easier by embracing this technology and have empowered the end-user who can now interact with the product via their phone. A simple example of this is giving the end-user the capability of adding remotes. Now it is as simple as opening an app and following the on-screen instructions.
MB: CENTURION always considers how the installer and end-user interface with our products. We pride ourselves on being one of the market leaders in this regard. We moved away from flashing LEDs on our controllers many years ago and replaced the programming interface with a LCD screen, which was far easier to navigate. But, as technology shifted, we used that to our advantage. We incorporated wireless technology into our new sliding gate motor range which enables the installer and end-user to use our MyCentsys Pro application to interface with the gate motor. This new interface is easier to read, more intuitive to navigate and highlights potential issues that may be present with the installation. Not only that, the installer or end-user is able to download installation manuals from the application as well as upload logs that provide critical information to our technical support team. These logs assist our technical support team in order to better service our clients. We have also incorporated the use of push notifications with some of our products to keep the end user informed of the various activities taking place on our products, alerting them of events as they happen