How are rockets designed to visit space? How do satellites transmit signals to phones and other gadgets? What’s the technology behind wireless charging? Interesting questions right? The answers are just a few search queries away, but they are thought-provoking nonetheless. And they all point to innovation.
Innovation is pivotal for growth and development. Not only does it make life easier, but it is a channel for economic growth and prosperity. In the last decade, Africa has witnessed tremendous growth in innovation; nothing demonstrates this more than the amount of funding generated in tech so far.
Last year, over $ 2 billion was raised in tech funding. As of Q1 2022, over $1 billion had been raised, which is over 52.3% of the 2021 total. However, the continent still has improvements to make when compared to wealthier continents. The lag is not a lack of creative or innovative minds and projects but the unavailability of more finance and infrastructure to scale.
In recent years, we have seen many brilliant indigenous innovations; last year, we highlighted some notable innovations like Reddi, Kubeko, and Nano Mask made by Africans. This year, we have curated yet another lineup of innovators and their brilliant innovations.
Vaccibox by Norah Magero
Getting vaccinated when the pandemic was at its peak was a problem for many people living in developing countries. Some reasons for the low uptake are poorly equipped public health facilities, lack of vaccination distribution centres and cold chain infrastructure.
Cold chain infrastructure is crucial for vaccine distribution and drug and blood storage. These health products sometimes contain temperature-reactive biological products, and the wrong temperature can degrade active ingredients and render the drug unviable for users.
To address this problem, Norah Magero designed VacciBox to help regulate the temperature of vaccines in Kenya. The 40-litre VacciBox is portable and lightweight. Vaccibox is solar-powered, gets charged within two hours and can last up to nine hours, and its integrated tracking system monitors a vaccine’s temperature during transportation. Magero and her team are currently running three pilot projects with rural healthcare facilities to evaluate VacciBox’s features and efficacy.
Omeife – by Uniccon Group
Robots are not new in today’s world, and this reality demonstrates how far technology has penetrated all human endeavours. They come in different shapes and sizes, but what has become astonishing is their resemblance to human beings. There are humanoids, and robots that mimic the appearance and behaviour of humans. They are already in use across wealthier nations but are relatively nascent in many African countries.
Uniccon Group, a two-year-old Nigerian technology company, founded by Chuks Ekwueme, recently created a humanoid, Omeife, that understands African culture and behavioural patterns. It is the first African humanoid based on being the first African by design and purpose. Omeife currently speaks English, French, Arabic, Kiswahili, Pidgin, Wazobia, Afrikaans, and Igbo. Omeife is not just multilingual but also speaks each language with a native accent, pitch and vocabulary and can switch languages and interact with specific gestures, hand illustrations, smiles and other bodily gestures.
Ekueme hopes to improve the product till it is ready for commercial production and sold at a starting price of $30,000 upward. With such an ambitious goal, we expect to see the use of Omeife and similar products beyond Africa. This would afford Nigeria a share of the global humanoid robot market pegged at $1.48 Billion in 2021 and expected to reach a valuation of USD 17.32 billion by 2028.
Crib A-Glow by Virtue Oboro
Humans are vulnerable to diseases once they are born. For many newborn, it is jaundice – a health defect that usually appears in the first few days or weeks of life. It can be fatal and has accompanying effects like brain damage, cerebral palsy and hearing loss. Notably, it is not regarded as a high-risk health condition in high-income countries because treatment is available and accessible. However, the same cannot be said of developing nations where treatment could be strenuous because of the unavailability of health infrastructure.
Spurred by a personal experience as a mother, Virtue Oboro invented Crib A’Glow – a foldable, photo-therapy crib that treats and monitors jaundiced newborns. Designed for under-resourced medical facilities that do not have access to a stable electricity supply, it can work on either grid or solar power.
Following clinical trials, the crib is used in seventy hospitals in Nigeria. Additionally, over 300,000 babies have been saved from jaundice. This inspires hope that a significant number of the over 1.16 million babies that die in their first month of life in Africa can be saved.
A-Lite Vein Locator Dr Julius Mubiru
People often detest getting injections when they need medical care, but intravenous cannulation is essential in the medical field. It can be strenuous for medical staff to perform cannulations on young children as a result of vein invisibility. Repeated attempts at cannulation can cause trauma and delays but also scarring and nerve injury. The medical field has evolved, and there are now vein visualizers. However, compared to the western world, these devices are rare in sub-Saharan Africa due to certain factors including high cost, energy access, and maintenance cost.
To solve this problem on the continent, Julius Mabiru and his team developed the A-lite vein locator machine that helps doctors and nurses locate a child’s veins easier. Although designed with children in mind, it works on patients of all ages. Dr Mubiru hopes to make the A-Lite Vein Locator a top-notch piece of equipment for Uganda’s 6,000 facilities.
Smart Bra by Kemisola Bolarinwa
Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women. In 2020 alone, over twenty million women were diagnosed with breast cancer, most of which were late diagnoses.
In Nigeria, Kemisola Bolarinwa founded Nextwear technology, a hardware embedding company that designs and develops technology worn close to the body by embedding programmable electronics and sensors on clothing to solve health issues, insecurity, communication, and augment fashion.
One of her products, the Smart Bra, is a product that would help women with easier breast cancer self-examination. Designed with ultrasound technology, it works with a mobile application, which takes the result and translates it into a language easily understood by the user. A woman puts it on for 20 to 30 minutes and checks her status. The device then takes the readings and sends the result to the mobile app where she can access it.
The Smart Bra’s sensor is programmed to detect not just lumps but also identify the difference between a cancerous lump, a benign lump, and a tumour. The Nextwear team is still working on the Smart Bra and has plans to conduct a standard clinical trial using a world-certified laboratory. The scarcity of early detection programs contributes to low survival rates in developing countries. With acceptance into the health space after the clinical trial, there would be a higher chance of early detection and treatment of the disease.
Atmospheric Water Generator (AWG) by Kumulus
Feeling thirsty is our body’s way of telling us that it is running low on water, which is essential for its functioning. When we do not get water to quench our thirst when needed, it could heighten and cause discomfort. Sadly, this is the reality for many people, especially on the African continent. There are projections that by 2025, close to 230 million Africans will face water scarcity, and up to 460 million will live in water-stressed areas.
To help reduce the number of people who lack this basic necessity, Kumulus, a tech startup in Tunisia, has developed an innovation that allows safe drinking water by refining the water vapour in the air and putting it through a system that kills any harmful bacteria. Kumulus-1 reproduces the phenomenon of morning dew to produce 20 to 30 litres of healthy drinking water per day.
Humid air is first drawn into the machine and then passes through a particle filter. It then goes through a cooling process that causes droplets of water to appear in the collector. The dry air is ejected, and the water collected goes through multiple filtration processes to ensure the absence of any particles or bacteria before being served for use.
The company believes that access to safe drinking water should not be a luxury but a right for all on earth. It plans on developing ideas to replace current systems.
Kukia by Divin Kouebatouka
The Republic of the Congo is a major producer and exporter of crude oil, with an estimated 10% share in the global oil and fuel market. But with this blessing comes an avoidable curse. Oil spills due to crude oil exploration are prevalent in the country. This affects the natural ecosystem, health and socio-economic activities of citizens in the exploration zones.
To address the problems, Kouebatouka and his team designed Kukia, an absorbent fibre used to stop oil leaks and clean up oil spills on both land and water. Made from the fast-growing and invasive water hyacinth plant, it can hold up to 17 times its weight in hydrocarbons, the compounds that form the basis of crude oil.
Kukia is sold directly to petrochemical, pollution control companies, and the public through fuel stations and wholesalers.
Digital X-ray glasses by Matlhogonolo and Masego Mphahlele
Globally, an estimated 3.6 billion diagnostic medical examinations, such as X-rays, are performed every year. Medical x-rays are used to generate images of tissues and structures inside the body. This medical imaging has led to improvements in the diagnosis and treatment of numerous medical conditions in people. However, the X-ray machine that performs these diagnosis tasks is big and can’t be carried around, making an on-the-spot diagnosis in urgent scenarios impossible.
Things have improved and there are digital X-ray glasses to fill in this gap. In South Africa, twin sisters Matlhogonolo and Masego Mphahlele invented digital X-ray glasses to facilitate a faster and more efficient service in the country’s healthcare system.
The idea for the innovation was spurred when their teammate got injured during a soccer game and had to wait for hours before she had an x-ray done. At that point, they saw the need for a portable way to take X-rays rather than having to wait for X-ray machines. They hope all medical practitioners would have access to the glasses in making a quick first diagnosis at any time.
SolarPocha by Oluwatobiloba Oyinlola
Many Nigerian universities face acute energy problems due to a lack of infrastructure. This threatens student learning, research, and institutional and administrative operations. Oluwatobiloba Oyinlola wants Nigerian students to scale this hurdle, so he designed SolarPocha – a solar-powered outdoor workstation that allows students and professionals can connect to electricity and the internet and work comfortably outdoors.
It can be installed anywhere, giving people the chance to work in settings without grid electricity or internet connections. Students book the workstation through the university portal and are assigned a seat. The Wi-Fi and the booking management systems are synchronized so that the time starts once the student logs in. The socket automatically comes on, and when the allotted time elapses, the socket and Wi-Fi shuts down automatically.
Bleaglee by Juveline Ngum
As much as cooking helps produce food that we survive on, the activity is equally accompanied by hazards that threaten human life. For example, it spikes our carbon footprint and causes air pollution – a killer of an estimated 1.6 to 4 million people a year. There is also metal pollution. In Cameroon, metal scrap accounts for 40% of annual waste.
This host of environmental problems is what Juveline Ngum is solving with Bleaglee – a smart cooking system made entirely of recycled materials. It includes a smokeless cook stove made of metal scraps, a clean cooking fuel made in solar-powered bio-digesters from plastic and agricultural waste, and a digital platform that allows cooks to track and offset their carbon footprint.
Additionally, the Bleaglee cookstove is entirely mobile and aided by sensors and timers powered by artificial intelligence. These features enable it to automatically switch off when food is ready and monitor air quality. Bleaglee stoves are 80% cheaper than using firewood and cook five times faster than traditional ovens used in Cameroon.
Juveline and her team have the ambition to scale Bleaglee into serving two million customers within the next decade and build an app that helps track the supply of scrap metal from informal recyclers.