MOTIVATED by more of a sense of mission, than turning a handsome profit, the World Economic Forum has unveiled a list of 49 companies for its 2015 class of “Technology Pioneers”.
This year’s class of 49 splits broadly into three categories. The largest is information technology, which features 21 companies and is dominated by digital security.
Technology Pioneers however come from a wide range of sectors such as life sciences and health, energy and environment, and information technologies and new media. An external selection committee composed of technology experts reviews the candidates on innovation, potential impact, working prototype, viability and leadership.
There were 12 pioneers in particular that stand out, addressing issues and concerns that are the forefront of African challenges:
20% of Africa’s 1.1 billion-strong population is now online and though, at present, Africa accounts for 4% of total security incidents worldwide, this is rising. Crowdstrike will be a useful tool, since it makes the web safer, by improving the ability of systems to detect attacks. The company’s technology platform identifies malware and non-malware-based attacks and offers critical context and real-time search capability to thwart advanced adversaries.
On his recent visit in eastern Africa, US president Barack Obama took a dig at corruption which is rampant in many African nations. OpenGov is out to improve how governments serve their citizens through its tools to make public budget information transparently shareable online. OpenGov will also help governments to analyse, share, and compare financial data. With this technology, state and local governments will collaborate more effectively through their budgeting process, make smarter data driven decisions and build trust through greater transparency.
70% of users in sub-Saharan Africa browse the web on mobile devices, compared with just 6% who use desktop computers. Data Theorem constantly scans its clients’ mobile apps for gaps in security or data privacy, locking down problems before others can exploit them. Data Theorem is the leading provider in mobile app security.
Only about 26.5 % of the African population has access to the internet, with fewer than than 1% with access to broadband connections. For many years, fibre was seen as the ultimate path to high-speed connectivity. The reality, however, is that in many areas, fibre has fallen short as too expensive and slow to deploy. Mimosa networks offer a new take on wireless technology that promises super-fast connections for areas too remote to make fibre connections viable.
There’s already been a proposal to use drones to ship cargo around Africa, circumventing the continent’s dilapidated infrastructure and Matternet is bringing this a step closer to reality, producing drones that can safely and autonomously deliver small parcels. Self-flying between 50-100 meters above ground, the Matternet ONE can transport up to 1kg over 20km on a single battery charge.
Improving access to healthcare via mobile technologies is critical on a continent with limited infrastructural development and a lack of social services in rural areas. HealthTap is aiming to improve the efficiency of healthcare by pioneering online doctor-patient consultations. HealthTap improves the efficiency of healthcare by allowing patients to connect immediately with over 69,000 doctors through web, mobile and wearable apps.
One of the greatest healthcare challenges for Africa is not developing diagnostic tools or providing treatments, but is in having enough trained healthcare workers to manage these tools effectively. Holomic’s portable diagnostic test readers will enable anyone with a smartphone to test rapidly and accurately for diseases ranging from malaria to Ebola, or the presence of alcohol or drugs. With a smartphone penetration in Africa of about 20%, this will be a massively useful technology.
Just six of Africa’s 54 countries have national electrification rates of between 81-100%, and as a result biomass fuels like charcoal and firewood continue to be popular energy sources.
Fortunately Plant-e has figured out how to generate electricity by harvesting waste electrons from the roots of living plants, without damaging the plants’ growth. Plant-e produces electricity from living plants. Photosynthesis produces organic matter by-products which are excreted into the soil via the roots and broken down by naturally occurring micro-organisms, releasing electrons. Plant-e’s patented technology harvests those electrons to generate electricity, without compromising the plant’s growth. The technology has the potential to provide green, clean electricity worldwide.
The proper disposal of e-waste in Africa is getting to be an ever bigger problem for the continent. Take the example of the digital dumping ground, Agbogbloshie in Ghana. What used to be a wetland on the suburbs of Accra deals with millions of tons of e-waste, with the presence of lead in the soil at very high levels.
BlueOak Resources is working to make the technology value chain circular by building a network of refineries that produce high-value metals from electronic waste. Its vision is to reduce our dependence on traditional mining and create circular integration in the metals and technology lifecycle.
Africa’s plastic waste and agricultural waste could be put to good use, aiding in the continent’s construction boom through producing a new range of materials. Miniwiz turns low value consumer waste, like electronic waste, food waste, packaging and plastics into high value raw materials, semi-finished goods as well as building modules and fabrics. They do so via their proprietary recycling technologies and in-house engineering and architecture practice.
Costly fertilisers have been said to be holding back Africa’s green revolution with many farmers in sub-Saharan Africa rely on manure rather than chemical fertilisers. But the organic alternative cannot meet the demand. Protix offers great promise though, having worked out how to farm insects on a mass scale, efficiently producing fertilisers and animal feed rich in fats and protein.
As a continent heavily dependent on its agriculture industry, one of Africa’s biggest challenges is low crop yields. Blue River Technology could help address this as it uses robotics to improve crop yields by analysing each individual plant in a field and caring for it appropriately. Blue River Technology has developed smart machines that increase agricultural production and provide an alternative to the expensive and environmentally damaging practices of chemical-intensive agriculture.