Summary: Technology, driven by developments of the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) present African markets with a new chapter of economic potential. According to research, by 2025, 97% of worldwide economic growth will come from emerging markets based within less developed countries in Africa. The 4IR is centered upon connectivity, bringing together objects, people, services and products to improve lives but it is important that all countries benefit from this approach, and not just the developed countries.
By taking an idea and making it work with the materials around you, African developers are changing the lives of their citizens and leading the way for future inventors who also want to use technology to help drive global prosperity.
Technology, driven by developments of the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) presents African markets with a new chapter of economic potential. According to research, by 2025, 97% of worldwide economic growth will come from emerging markets based within less developed countries in Africa.
Technological innovation in Africa is rife. Hindered by barriers to traditional trade, today’s generation are applying technology to answer a raft of societal challenges in order to boost economic success.
By applying novel ways of circumnavigating these issues in order to provide communities with services that enables successful enterprise, a raft of new ideas is driving economic throughout both new and established industries. For example, understanding that many in Africa don’t have access to traditional form of finance, Africa is a global leader of ‘mobile payments’, utilising mobile phones to ensure the wider population are able to participate in the economy. M-Pesa is the most successful example of these mobile payment innovations, garnering over 30 million users to date.
The focus on innovation is already yielding results. For example, Ugandan inventor Brian Turyabagye, created a biomedical smart jacket that can diagnose pneumonia more accuracy and four times faster than a doctor by analysing the patient’s chest and sending the results to a smartphone app via Bluetooth. In addition, local inventors have come up with a novel way of charging mobile phones whilst walking. Anthony Mutua from Kenya, inserts ultra -thin chips of crystal inserted into the sole of a shoe to create electricity from the pressure exerted when it is stepped on.
African inventors are also developing ground-breaking space exploration innovations, such as the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), the world’s largest telescope that will allow scientists to look deeper into space than ever before.
South African car company Mobius Motors have developed a range of cars for the mass African market that are cost-effective, yet luxury cars that can cope with poor quality roads whilst in the Congo, engineers have created robots to tackle traffic problems in hot spots across cities. In Nigeria, innovator Osh Agabi developed a neurotechnology device that fuses live neurons from mice stem cells into a silicon chip that can detect both explosives and cancer cells.
Indeed, to help the 600 million people in sub-saharan African who do not have access to electricity, ‘Off Grid Electric’ an African start-up funded by Elon Musk installs solar panel systems across villages without power. So far, it has powered over 125,000 homes.
At the core of many of the ideas emerging from African nations is an understanding that technology can create a divide between the poor and the wealthy and how this must be avoided if the whole continent is to benefit. As such, many inventions are designed to create parity, equality and inclusivity.
For example, 3D printing is a rising trend across Africa. In 2013, WoeLabs, based in Togo produced the first 3D printer made from e-waste and since this success; they now aim to build a 3D printer in every school within 1km of the workshop. Understanding the potential of this trend, and that a blend between education and technology is key to driving economic success, in 2015 the NGO Youth for Technology Foundation (YTF) launched 3D Africa to that teach young and female workers to use 3D printing technologies to launch marketable businesses. Arming these women with knowledge that drives self-sufficiency, provides a way to establish and drive new sectors that benefit the wider economic environment.
To encourage innovative behaviour, there are now several high-profile competitions across the continent that provide a platform for students, innovators and entrepreneurs to showcase their ideas. For example, the Open Mic Africa is a global innovation competition, hosted by the Legatum Center for Development and Entrepreneurship at MIT, run in partnership with The MasterCard Foundation. During the last event, the judges awarded a team that developed a road traffic alert sensor with the top prize, providing support for them to take the product through the necessary stages of development to reach the market.
Indeed, the Zambezi prize, also run by Legatum, invites innovators to provide solutions that answer challenges such as low financial literacy, proof of identify, limited access to banking systems, in order to win a $200,000 prize to develop their ideas, mentoring and networking to allow their business ideas to grow.
Further, the annual ‘Hackathon’ hosted by a university in Nigeria invites young people to design, model and prototype products that could go on to be produced on a mass scale. The winner of last year’s competition, Emmanuel Odunlade developed iGas, an IoT device that tells people the amount of gas left in their cookers, and a machine learning algorithm that helped predict gas levels, detect leakages and contacts a local supplier to order refills. Other innovations included a wind turbine with solar panels, a crop disease detector and a robotic arm.
The African Union is focused on finding ways to solve local problems through innovation, and despite financial and infrastructure challenges, the continent is raising a generation of innovators who taking a creative approach and investing in African technology development to help those affected and drive the wider economy. Not having access to the services and education available in developed countries is driving a raft of innovations that take revolutionary approaches to problem solving, delivering results through unconventional and yet highly successful ways.
The 4IR is centered upon connectivity - bringing together objects, people, services and products to improve lives. It is important that all countries benefit from this approach, and not just those in developed countries. By taking an idea and making it work with the materials around you, African developers are changing the lives of their communities and leading the way for future inventors who also want to use technology to help drive global prosperity.
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