The clever cutting-edge technology out there that could solve Africa's biggest problems

A drinkable book, delivery drones and much more!

A UK-based technology company, Azuri has put its money on enabling rural African consumers to benefit from top quality products whose efficiency exceeds that found in most typical homes and businesses.

Their latest effort in this enterprise is the the launch of HomeSmart, a self-learning application for solar home systems to ensure that off the grid rural African households, that rely solely on solar power, will have a full night of light even on cloudy days. 

The usual solar home systems work well in sunny conditions but will often shut off early on cloudy days because they run out of power. HomeSmart uses learning technology to monitor both climatic conditions and historical customer usage patterns to optimise storage and use. This is believed to be the first time that such machine-learning approaches have been used in small domestic solar home systems, and marks the next step in intelligent automation.

Innovation  has helped Africa leapfrog development in several areas, and overcome obstacles such as this. The first wave of technological innovation led to financial inclusion, mobile and internet connectivity and better access to services.

Clearly it’s not stopping there; new innovations in science and technology continue to offer promise in transforming lives across the continent.

The Drinkable Book

In partnership with the Carnegie Mellon, WATERisLIFE introduced The Drinkable Book, the first-ever manual that provides safe water, sanitation and hygiene education and serves as a tool to kill deadly waterborne diseases by providing the reader with an opportunity to create clean, drinkable water from each page. Considering that approximately 340 million people in Africa are without access to safe drinking water this is a potential game changer. 

The pages can be torn out to filter drinking water through nanoparticles of silver or copper, which kill bacteria in the water as it passes through. One page can filter 100 litres, and a whole book could filter one person’s drinking water for four years. The books are still in testing however and are yet to go into mass distribution. 

Zipline

Zipline is a drone startup that looks set to take on the challenges posed by the inaccessibility of healthcare in Africa, where less than 50% of people have access to modern healthcare and there are only 2.3 doctors per 1,000 individuals.

Set to launch in Rwanda in August, Zipline will provide a drone delivery service whereby medicine can be delivered to places that are hard to reach. The “Zips” are small fixed-wing drones with a pop-open compartment on the bottom that releases a small package with a parachute before returning home. 

Each drone can make anywhere from 50 to 150 such deliveries a day, setting off all over from 21 clinics across the Western half of Rwanda. The cost of a trip is about the same as doing the delivery on a motorcycle, but is believed to be more reliable, as the short travel time  - travelling at about 96km per hour - means there’s no need for refrigeration or navigating dangerous roads.

The project is being planned in partnership with the government and has seen a host of big-name investors like Sequoia Capital, GV (formerly Google Ventures), Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang, Subtraction Capital and Stanford University. In total, the company says it has raised around $18 million.

Warka Water Towers

The Warka Water tower could become Africa’s new tree of life. 

Inspired by nature’s forms of water collection in both flora and fauna, the Warka Water tower relies only on natural phenomena such us gravity, condensation and evaporation and doesn’t require electrical power. It is a vertical structure designed to harvest potable water from the atmosphere - specifically from rain, fog and dew. 

Warka Water is designed to be owned and operated by the villagers and will not only provide a fundamental resource for life – water – but also create a social place for the community, where people can gather under the shade of its canopy for education and public meetings.

Once completed, Warka Water will rise to a height of 10m, weigh 60 kg, and be secured to the ground with eight guide ropes. The tower consists of a lightweight woven bamboo structure, while an inner plastic mesh retains water droplets from passing fog, which fall into a collector and a large tank. Any rainwater and overnight dew also collects in the tank. It could collect an annual average of up to 100 litres of water per day.

Dapivirine ring

HIV prevention for women just took a huge leap forward courtesy of the dapivirine ring - a flexible and inexpensive ring that is inserted into the vagina. 

Researchers in February announced that a vaginal ring containing an antiretroviral (ARV) drug called dapivirine that women use for a month at a time was safe and helped protect against HIV in a large-scale clinical trial involving more than 2,629 women in Africa. 

It by no means offered full coverage - overall infection rates were only reduced by 27% - 31%, however the device has given results that are the most promising to date in HIV prevention for African women. In sub-Saharan Africa, an estimated 24.7 million people are living with HIV, accounting for 71% of the global total. While the vast majority of new HIV infections in sub-Saharan Africa occur in adults over the age of 25, HIV disproportionately affects young women. More than 4 in 10 new infections among women are in young women aged 15-24. 

Drones Against Tsetse

Sleeping sickness occurs in 36 sub-Saharan Africa countries where there are tsetse flies that transmit the disease and cause large damages and loses in both humans and animals. At least three million cattle die from the disease in Africa every year and many of the affected human populations (about 65million at risk) live in remote rural areas with limited access to adequate health services.

To combat this the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Embention have launched the “Drones Against Tsetse” project, a project for the control of tsetse flies population in Africa. In a first phase, the project is focused in the control of the plague in Ethiopia - in accordance with the Ethiopian government’s Growth and Transformation Plan and the Country Program Framework - and is then willing to soon act in other affected areas in Africa. 

The drone, developed by Embention, can fly for up two hours and under each wing is a stack of temperature controlled pods, each containing a swarm of sterile male insects. They will be released in densities of 100 sterile males per square kilometre every week in eradication programmes. Once they’re in the wild, they mate with the native population, producing no offspring and consequentially lowering the tsetse fly population.

The first prototype of the including the release system had already been produced and tested locally by Embention and is now being tested in Ethiopia under real field conditions.

Iris recognition Africa

Elections in Africa are a tense time because of the fears and reality of rigging. 

Now there’s a solution to at least reducing the potential of stolen elections with IRIS Biometric Technology Solutio; iris recognition technology that will help to create a fraud-free voter registration list and ensure fairer national elections. 

It ensures accuracy at detecting duplicate registration attempts and has a very high speed of enrolment as it identifies registered voters based on the unique characteristics of their iris. 

Somaliland is set to become the first country in the world to use this technology for its presidential and parliamentary elections that are scheduled to take place in 2017. It already started the registration process in January 2016. The software will be particularly useful in this context since citizens still do not yet have identity cards.

Luminaid

The LuminAID light is a solar-powered, inflatable lamp that packs flat and inflates to create a lightweight, waterproof lantern. It provides up to 16 hours of light and recharges in approximately seven hours of direct sunlight. 

This has made the product particularly useful in emergency situations - whether it be flooding or in refugee camps - or as an everyday light source for off the grid Africans, bear in mind that two in every three people in Africa, around 621 million in total, have no access to electricity.

This simple technology has already been used in Africa, most recently in Malawi during severe flooding that forced entire communities to relocate and affected over half a million people. Luminaid was able to provide lights to families and young students who needed to study at night. It also offers a solution which removes concern over fuel or fire hazards. The issue however is the cost of a unit - the cheapest kit costs $22.95 - in Malawi’s case though luminaid kits were one of the products that made up the vital supplies provided by Shelterbox, an organisation that delivers emergency shelter and other lifesaving supplies to help families begin to rebuild their lives. 


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