Top 10 New Innovations And Inventions From Africa
Through no fault of its own, Africa has had a late start on its journey as a continenet of dynamic change and breakthrough innovations. Sometimes, however, it really is better to be late, as when it comes to technological and scientific advances, tapping into the vast quantities of established global knowledge has been a boon to development. Despite the delayed start, Africa has gained a foothold in the mobile phone industry, which has led to expansion into other newer industries and sectors such as mobile money transfer, health, education and agriculture.
Cardiovascular disease is responsible for more than 17 million deaths worldwide annually, and in many African countries those at risk often have to spend huge ammounts of money and travel hundreds of miles to reach heart specialists, who are concentrated in urban areas.
Originating in the Cameroons and invented by Arthur Zang, a 24-year-old engineer, the Cardio-pad offers medical help to remote locations. The touch screen medical tablet is a life saver that permits heart examinaions such as electro-cardiograms (EKG) to be performed while the results are wirelssly transmitted to waiting specialists who can properly interpret them. This addresses the concerns of those living in rural areas who heretofore could not travel to urban centers to receive help.
In the words of the inventor: "I designed the Cardio-pad to resolve a pressing problem. if a cardiac exam is prescribed for a patient in Garoua in the north of the country, they are obliged to travel a distance of over 900 kilometers (about 1,800 miles) in order to be tested."
Statistics claim that 881,000 die annually from malaria, making it one of the world's most prevalent infectious diseases. Early diagnosis and treatment are vital to prevent severe malaria and death. Originating in South Africa in the 1990s, the Malaria pf/PAN (pLDH)Test Kit has undergone many improvements. It is one of nine developed globally, but it is the only African-owned and operated company. Its true strength lies in the fact that it is a rapid diagnostic test that can detect all strains of malaria within thirty minutes and it can further indicate whether or not the treatment provided is effective.
While Egypt is officially known as an Arab republic, it can be included in this list of African innovations because it is technically a transcontinental country, which spans the northeastern corner of Africa and the southwestern corner of Asia, separated by a land bridge formed by the Sinai Peninsula. Khaled Shady, a 22-year-old computer-engineering student at Menoufia University, Egypt, has developed an outstanding navigational aid designed for the visually impaired.
The Mubster guides blind people and helps them to navigate around common obstacles such as walls, chairs and staircases safely and easily via a wearable belt with a Bluetooth-connected headset. Mubster recognizes various obstacles via a 3D depth camera, which captures RGB imaging and infrared depth data and transmits it to the user through a vibration motor and built in audio device.
Transportation and Sustainable Living Innovations
For those who might detect a play on words about yellow cabs, suspicion is well-merited even though mellow-cabs are very diferent from their American cousins. This is due mostly to the fact that they are electrically-powered, emissions-free, high-tech pedi-cabs (bicycle taxis) that have been manufactured from recycled materials.Pedi-cabs are Chinese in origin and based on a generic shell design that mellow-cab manufacturers modified to make a more road-worthy vehicle.
Mellow-cabs were developed by South African entrepreneur, Neil du Preez, and they feature top-of-the-line, cuttingedge technologies which include: illuminated body panels, tablet computerd with proprietary software which features augmented reality facility, geo-activation advertising, full media integration and regenerative braking. In urban areas, mellow-cabs provide first and last mile public transport.
Originating in Tunisia and created by Saphon Energy, a company founded by Hassine Labaied and Anis Aouini, the Saphonian is a wind turbine that is bladeless and utilizes ancient sailboat technology to transform the kinetic evergy of the wind into mechanical power. The challenge was to go even further and develop a new way to harness the power of the wind. Known as Zero-Blade Technology, the idea behind the converter was to remove the blade and the hub and replace them with a body that is shell-shaped.
Those of us who reside in modern urban centers take our water supply for granted, but two out of every five people in Africa have no nearby access to water and are forced to walk long distances to reach available sources. For centuries, women and children would balance heavy loads of water on their heads which not only limited the amount of water they could carry but also prevented them from acessing eductional and economic opportunities.
The Hippo Water Roller is a drum that can be filled with water and is rolled across the ground, making it easier to haul larger amoutns of water faster. It is either pushed or pulled using a steel handle that allows for two pushers for steep hills. A full drum can carry five times more than conventional containers and it weighs half the usual 20 pounds. The weight of the water is spread evenly, permiting faster transport. In the words of project manager, Grant Gibbs: "Essentially, it alleviates the suffering people endure just to collect water and take it home. Boreholes or wells can dry out but people can still use the same roller in other wells. One roller will typically serve a household of seven for five to seven years."
Technological and Agricultural Innovations
Created by Kenyan farmer, Su Kahumbu, the iCOW APP works on the type of basic mobile phones small-scale dairy farmers own. Its purpose is to harness the power of mobile phones to both encourage the best dairy practices and increase milk production by providing information about the latest prices in milk or cattle and aiding in keeping records of their livetocks lineage, which if not done, can result in inbreeding and disease.
In the words of Loren Treisman of the UK-based Indigo Tust that helped to fund iCOW: "Farmers are now empowered to improrve their own lives through accessing critical agricultural information as opposed to depending on aid. What particularly excited us is that as a social enterprise, the iCOW team has a sustainable business model which will enable them to expand rapidly and maximize their reach and impact without dependence on ongoing funding."
While there are a multitiude of talented, tech-savvy youths that comprise the bulk of Africa's population, wireless and broadband technology are not yet available in many public areas. A digital divide caused by exorbitant retail prices for computers and infrastructure barriers impede the educational progress for many of these young and talented people.Nigerian innovators, Saheed Adepoju and Anibe Agamah, have developed the Inye tablet, which runs on Android systems and can be connected to the Internet via widely used dongles rather than wirelessly. Most importantly, local developers are designing apps that address issues such as HIV, water, sanitation and education.
Credit and Banking Innovation
Established in 2010 and founded by 33 year-old Kenyan, David Munga, the purpose of this banking innovation is to offer emergency credit through mobile phones to people who don't have access to credit cards or bank loans. The M-PEPEA addresses a major problem, as up to now, bank loans were only authorized for big cash pruposes such as buying a home or investing in a business, offering an easy foothold for loan sharks and incredible interest rates.
M-PEPEA fills this gap in services and provides customers with emergency funds within a few hours. Mobile phones offer access to the money, which is channeled through a special pin code to be plugged into cash machines. The many branches of Safaricom, one of Kenya's largest mobile phone companies, can also serve as collection banks for the loan, which can total up to 20% of the borrower's monthly salary, which is then deducted at the end of the following month.
Despite some financial difficulties with businesses defaulting, the future is bright for M-PEPEA. In the words of its creator: "We're still in our intial phase, but we've seen how positively people have responded to this service...If, like many Kenyans, you've found yourself at the side of the road with a broken car, no credit card and no money in the bank, it's a way of getting yourself that money without having to get into trouble."
More than three million children in Africa suffer from blindness caused by vitamin A deficiency, and in Uganda alone, it is estimated that 28% of children are affected. To combat this terrible affliction, local growers are breeding sweet potatoes that contain betacarotine, which is converted by the body into vitamin A. Over a two-year peeriod, the orange sweet potato was distributed to 10,000 farming households and results indicated an almost 50% decrease in vitamin A deficiency.
Africa's promise as a world power is in many ways yet to be realized. Innovation is emerging as a key theme in this continent's long-term growth strategy. Biotechnology is already a multi-billion dollar industry and the associated technical knowledge can be applied to other sectors, such as health, industry and environmental management. The hope is that soon Africa will be able to rely on its own resources, both human and otherwise. The continent has made stunning progress despite political strife, rampant disease and poverty.
Walk tall, Africa, and stun the world with all the new ideas bursting within your collective spirit!
M Dee Dubroff
Fashion and Technology Blogger