Category: Tech


London Tech Week to Shine Spotlight on African Startups

The Africa Technology Business Network’s annual pitch competition Africa Tech Pitch LDN will be featured in London Tech Week 2017. Now in its third year, Africa Tech Pitch LDN provides an opportunity for Africa-focused tech startups to showcase their solutions to the London tech ecosystem. It spotlights high-impact, high-growth startups that are using technology to unlock untapped opportunities and address a real need in the African market.

In a bid to include startups who are unable to travel to London, this year’s search will be held as a three-minute video pitch competition allowing Africa-based innovators to submit their entries online for the first time.

A panel of industry judges will select five top startups to be highlighted and screened during London Tech Week (12th-16th June) at an exclusive reception hosted by TLA Africa, part of the Tech London Advocates – a coalition of over 4300 tech leaders, experts and investors in London.

The final tech pitch winner will be announced at the Africa Technology Business Forum in London on 21st June 2017 before an audience of innovators and investors from across Europe and Africa.

Startups can apply until 31st May – http://www.atbnforum.com/startup-showcase

Tech boon for children as Ghana puts autism on the app

Good job, high five!” enthuses Victoria Nyarko in her classroom at a community centre in the Ghanaian coastal city of Tema. It is Monday morning, and classes at HopeSetters autism centre – where shelves are filled with puzzles and learning aids, and walls covered in colourful posters and slogans – are a little different from normal.

The privately funded centre, which provides education for 18 autistic children aged between five and 15, is one of the first organisations in the country to use a locally designed autism aid app that uses audio and visual educational tools to help youngsters learn.

“Today we are doing the kitchen materials,” Nyarko says. “They like it because it kind of talks back to them … it communicates with them, and they like to touch it a lot.”

With its learning tools, SMS helpline for parents, and information centre, the app, believed to be the first of its kind in sub-Saharan Africa, is helping to further autism education and awareness in Ghana. Its creator, Alice Amoako, says the app provides teaching material that helps teachers and parents to improve communication skills among children.

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Autism Aid founders Alice Amoako and Solomon Avemegah

A neurological disorder characterised by communication and social difficulties, autism is believed to affect one in 68 children globally. Statistics for Ghana and other African countries are lacking: one study suggests one in 87 children under the age of three in Ghana is autistic.

Children with autism face discrimination and the same prejudices as people with mental illnesses, activists say.

Amoako and other teachers are hoping to change attitudes. While studying for a degree in IT at the Ghana Technology University, Amoako founded Autism Ambassadors of Ghana (AAG).

“I [visited] an autism centre and had interactions with the caregivers and children, and I realised there was a need to help raise awareness,” says Amoako, 24. “In my final year [at university], I had to do a project to complete my studies and we developed the app.”

Amoako and co-founder Solomon Avemegah developed the app last year, after winning a competition, the digital changemakers award, run by the mobile company Tigo. Backed by Reach for Change International, Tigo’s non-profit partner, the prize is designed to support social entrepreneurs in Ghana.

The app utilises the picture exchange communication system (Pecs (pdf)), using visuals to instigate communication in children. The program comes with image sections, sign language tools for those unable to communicate verbally, and even a list of local foods and transport.

“They can learn all kinds of things,” Amoako says. “We were able to modify it in such a way that it even has the list of Ghanaian foods. If a child wants to eat banku[fermented corn and cassava], for example, they can just click on the picture. We have the Ghanaian transport system with taxis and tro-tros [public minibuses], and we hope to include local languages on the platform in the future too.”

The app, which is free to download, lists autism centres and facilities in Ghana, and has a detailed autism awareness section. Raising awareness is critical in a country, and region, where people with any kind of disability can be banished from society and sent to “prayer camps” to be “healed”.

Marilyn Marbell-Wilson, a developmental paediatrician, believes the technology could improve children’s communication skills. “Children with autism can definitely do better with modes of communication other than talking,” she says.

“It makes it a more familiar tool because most of them love the phones and gadgets, so they wouldn’t look in a book or the normal Pecs cards … it can improve the neural circuits of communication and so definitely it makes a better tool for communication instead of just looking at the pictures.”

One of only three autism specialists in Ghana, as well as a member of the app’s helpline team, Marbell-Wilson says the program could help change attitudes and bring more autism cases to light.

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Children and staff at the Autism Awareness Care and Training centre in the Ghanaian capital Accra

“If a child is not developing typically, some parents or relatives will say, ‘Oh, this is spiritual, this is not medical’, so they will either hide the child or do something untoward to the child,” she adds.

“If the child is sick, having a tantrum or [doing] something peculiar [and] the parent doesn’t know exactly what to do, we are able to answer and give some help … I think that will be great for parents.”

Kwaku Offei Addo, whose four-year-old son, Joel, has autism, says: “He likes to use the phone a lot and it will be helpful catching up with words and identifying objects.”

Offei Addo meets other fathers of autistic children to discuss their experiences. He says it can be particularly difficult for Ghanaian men to deal with having an autistic child.

“[People think] it demeans your status as a man,” he says. “It was really difficult for me to accept [but] over time, with the effort, it has built me up to a level … I think of the positive things and it motivates me.”

To mark world autism awareness day on 2 April, AAG organised a march of more than 400 people through Accra’s streets. The Autism Society of West Africa recently held a three-day conference in Accra bringing together advocates from Ghana, Nigeria and Senegal.

“I think it is empowering people to take the information they know here out to their families, neighbourhoods and communities, and to start talking more about what they saw here,” said the society’s founder, Casey McFeeley. “It opens up the idea that it is OK.”

Article via The Guardian

Meet Watly: The Three-Pronged Solution to Africa’s Biggest Needs

When you think of rural Ghana, and the rural Sub-Sahara, the big issues can usually be distilled into three components – a need for clean drinking water, a need for sustainable sources of power, and a need for internet connectivity. Take a second now to imagine a machine that can turn contaminated water from a river, ocean or even sewage into drinking water, while at the same time generating enough electricity to power itself with surplus, and connecting everywhere within a kilometre radius to Wi-Fi.

160503160150-watly-ghana-environment-test-super-169It sounds too good to be true. And yet Spanish-Italian start-up Watly have managed to create just that! The Watly machine is a car-sized solar-powered water-purification machine which can service 3000 people, and aims to provide to rural African communities the three fundamental pillars of modern civilisation: electrical power, clean water and internet access. It is ‘H’-shaped to follow the Sun throughout the day. An incredible technological feat, it works by capturing solar energy through photovoltaic panels that line its shell, before converting that solar energy into electricity through an internal 140kwh battery.

 

“The only thing it needs to run are dirty water and a lot of sun”, says Marco Attisani, the 160503162032-watly-team-in-ghana-super-16944-year old founder and creator of the Spanish-Italian start-up Watly. Ghana was chosen as the host of the first trials, with Watly machines having been provided to many villages to see just how useful and effective they are.

The solar energy generated through the solar panels helps produce clean drinking water by using a patented graphene-based filtering process. Watly’s purification process is based on the physical principle of vapour compression distillation. It is by far the most effective and powerful method of water purification available. Watly water quality is outstanding, absolutely pure, low mineralized and with a perfect pH balance. Water quality remains constant over the 15+ years of a Watly machine’s lifespan. One Watly device can deliver 5000 litres of safe drinking water each day!

 

160506154544-watly-hub-super-169It does not need to be connected to an electric grid. Watly produces off-grid electricity to power its own internal electronics (computers, multiple-screens, 3D printers and different telecommunication devices), as well as powering a charging station for external devices (portable computers, mobile phones, portable lamps, radios, televisions, household appliances). The free electricity generated by Watly is made available to people via multiple battery chargers and electric plugs. The battery also powers a connectivity hub, providing wireless internet to an 800-meter radius of a device.

 

Those lucky enough to trial the Watly prototypes have been astounded by the capabilities of the machine, and are incredibly excited by the prospect of having this little hub be an adrenaline shot to their infrastructure and quality of daily living.

A solar-powered machine such as the Watly is seen as potentially providing a boost to 160503154117-watly-ghana-children-super-169development in Ghana’s rural areas, as well as rural areas across the Sub-Sahara, where approximately 625 million people are without electricity and approximately 39% lack access to safe water.

If the trials are successful, the Watly team will look to begin a continent-wide roll-out of the devices. Founder Attisani will be presenting the final design to potential customers and investors in July, having already cited interest from leading mobile and energy companies. The team hopes to install 10000 Watly units across Africa over the next 8 years, which will help in creating about 50000 jobs on the continent. After the initial cost of build, Watly will run for free for up to 15 years, the company estimates. And in that time it will provide 3 million litres of clean water a year, enough for 3,000 people, electricity for thousands of devices, and Wi-Fi for a kilometre-wide radius.

160503161042-watly-tried-in-ghana-super-169The project has received 1.4 million Euros from the EU’s Horizon 2020 research funding program, and are planning to collaborate with NGOs and civil society on a local level. “No technology can change the world without a human factor” ,continues Attisani. “Local partners will care for the logistics, spread the word, play a role in education and leverage functionality.”
The Watly team also hopes that their devices will lead to a surge of economic growth in the areas which they serve, by becoming a launchpad upon which local entrepreneurs can start their businesses. Creating jobs, and helping bring much needed aid in the development of rural areas in Ghana and beyond, are just some of the advantages of a project which is aiming to bring the underdeveloped areas of Ghana and Africa to the heart of the 21st century.

By Dr Jermaine Bamfo (@Dr_Jabz27)