South African startup brings the African Safari experience to the world

South African startup brings the African Safari experience to the world
Africam allows viewers to see and hear the Big 5.
South African startup brings the African Safari experience to the world
Africam allows viewers to see and hear the Big 5.

South African startup ‘Africam’ is a media company that live streams HD footage from waterholes at various locations across Africa. The free streams are aimed at connecting people from around the world to African wildlife and create an online community focused on education and conservation.

The platform allows viewers to see and hear the Big 5 (Lion, Elephant, Buffalo, Leopard, Rhino) and many other rare animals in their natural habitat, live and unscripted.

With a mission to bring global awareness to the fight against poaching, Africam has a large community of camera operators from around the world who “move and zoom” the cameras and monitor the system.

The platform also has a real-time alert function that pushes alerts to email and social media. Each sighting is recorded and sighting photos are distributed via a Daily Email to their users. In addition to the live streams, Africam has an iOS app where they can send alerts based on user preference.

A famous African Proverb says ‘to travel is to see’. Now with the introduction of new and exciting technologies, the world can have a live window into Africa without physically travelling to the continent, says Paul Penzhorn, CEO of Africam.

Africam was one of a number of startups that participated in the AWS Pop-up Loft Johannesburg during the month of March. The Pop-Up Loft is a temporary free co-working space where anyone can stop by to hang out, network, get technical advice from AWS experts, or take part in a range of activities aimed at finding out how AWS can help to boost their business.

Penzhorn shares some insight on how the company leverages AWS, what Africam offers viewers, and future plans.

How does AWS help Africam?
The Africam portal is underpinned by Amazon Web Services Cloud. AWS offers benefits around cost, scalability and security in the following ways:

  • Cost: AWS do blanket agreements with the 3rd party vendors directly which brings the cost down.
  • Scalability: We can add more cameras and outputs to customers without having to worry about the 3rd party applications. AWS take care of this and cuts out Africam having to negotiate new contracts and terms. Additionally, as we scale our camera infrastructure or our viewership – AWS scales all the moving parts making it seamless. AWS can also monitor various critical points in the system infrastructure that allows us to diagnose any problems fast and reduce downtime on any camera. As we scale this becomes vital to manage effectively.
  • Security: With everything within AWS – the security of running many 3rd party apps is made safe and manageable.

AWS is effectively a “Virtual CTO” that allows us to scale with the confidence that all the “moving parts” are scaling with us within the AWS / Elemental ecosystem.

With AWS’s large global footprint – we also feel confident that we are getting the best value for our service and that AWS will always be at the forefront of new solutions. In terms of next steps, Africam will be gathering lots of data and security and encryption will play a big role in keeping it safe from poachers and other parties. Last, but not least, AWS is not just a tech partner but opens up more commercial opportunities that were never there before.

What capabilities does the cloud offer the African Safari experience?
AWS cloud allows us to get our live streams into the AWS Eco-system close to the source – this ensures that we can stream in Full HD to any person in the world. The cloud and virtual servers also allow us to add more servers to handle spikes in traffic without them crashing. This was a big problem in the past. The cloud also allows for effective storing of all video highlights and snap-shots taken from the cameras.

What was the inspiration behind the inception of the company?
Only 0,5% of the world’s population will ever be able to experience the unique feeling of going on a safari and seeing the animals in their natural habitat. Africam wants to bring this experience to anyone with an internet connection – this was the original motivation. Since then we have seen the impact it has on conservation, education and telling the stories of the animals.

The original inspiration has never changed – “to make the emotional connection between humans and African wildlife”. Once this emotional connection is made you create and mobilize communities that want to help save the animals in various ways.

Is the app only available on iOS and is the company looking to expand to other operating systems?
We are looking to launch on all platforms in the next 12 months. (Apple TV, Amazon Fire, Roku, Android). We are busy improving the user experience using AWS and Elemental and will then roll this out in the new apps.

With the company testing Amazon AI, what do you hope to achieve?
We hope AI can identify the animals on the cameras to help track their movements and predict the most effective patrol routes for the anti-poaching units. AI and machine learning could even send out automated alerts to the community and move the cameras. AI can also enrich the user experience by identifying the exact animal and supplying recorded videos of that same animal.

What have been some of the challenges in terms of getting content?
Having limited bandwidth in the bush is always the biggest challenge. We also often need to install solar rigs at the water holes due to no power. AWS cloud allows us to stream HD with less bandwidth needed at the source and so this helps us overcome this large challenge.

Any future plans?
Africam would like to become a platform to tell the stories of NGOs on the ground and raise funds for them. We will achieve this by getting as many people as possible to make an emotional connection to the animals and show them how they can make a difference.

By Fundisiwe Maseko
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