10 Technologies For Which Africa Is A Fertile Testing Ground

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Written by Peter Pedroncelli

Africa has a younger than average population which is interested in tech and its application, making the continent a fertile testing ground for new technologies.

Africa has seen technologies such as mobile money thrive, with 143 services active in sub-Saharan Africa, which accounts for about half of the services deployed worldwide.

That kind of adoption and appetite for disruption means that Africa is considered an interesting testing ground for new technologies.

From solar-powered internet to blockchain’s potential to stop voter-fraud and virtual reality’s contribution to medical advancement, new technologies such as these can make the most of Africa’s unique circumstances in further developing its potential to solve problems and positively impact people and communities.

Here are 10 technologies for which Africa is a fertile testing ground.

Crypto-enabled mobile browsers

In July it was revealed that the Opera mobile browser would soon launch with a built-in crypto wallet, allowing users to transact in cryptocurrency without needing any extensions or additional apps. Africa could be an ideal testing ground for this new tech, as Opera mini is the most widely used mobile browser on the African continent, and in November 2016 the company reached an impressive milestone with 100 million active users across its portfolio of products, according to the Opera blog.

Blockchain to counter voter fraud

Sierra Leone showed the value of using blockchain as a tool in politics when the country used blockchain technology to count votes during their recent parliamentary elections at the beginning of the year. Thanks to the system, which was put in place by Swiss tech firm Agora, the crypto service allowed for a fair and transparent election, according to Quartz.

Low-tech medical diagnostic devices

Africa’s inventors and entrepreneurs are proof that the continent’s unique medical needs can be catered for through innovation and resourcefulness, especially with regards to fairly low-tech diagnostic devices. Sub-Saharan Africa is home to 90 percent of global malaria cases and 92 percent of malaria deaths, according to World Health Organization stats from 2015. Code8, a team of young Ugandans, has created Matibabu, a smartphone app to diagnose malaria without the need of a blood sample. Another example is the Sweat TB Test, a non-invasive rapid diagnostic test developed by Nigerian Olanisun Olufemi Adewole that detects tuberculosis (TB) within 10 minutes of doing the test, allowing for rapid treatment, according to Konbini.

Solar-powered internet

Most parts of Africa are blessed with an abundance of sun, which is why solar power makes great sense on the continent. One company that is leveraging this potential is Nigerian solar-powered internet service provider, Tizeti, which uses innovative solar-powered base stations to provide homes, businesses, events and conferences with unlimited high speed broadband internet access.

Drone tech for farmers and conservation

Once associated purely with warfare and destruction, drone technology is being put to good use across industries, with agriculture and conversation standing out as excellent testing grounds for drones in Africa. South African drone startup Aerobotics, for example, uses drone technology and artificial intelligence to assist farmers with optimization of yields and cost-reduction through aerial data. The same tech can be used to support conservation efforts, such as monitoring deforestation operations, helping to protect large forests from being wiped out thanks to constant monitoring and feedback to the necessary authorities, or anti-poaching activities, equipping drones with thermal imaging cameras to see animals and poachers in the bush at night, alerting authorities to react.

Fertile Testing Ground
With cryptocurrency adoption on the rise, Bitcoin and other crypto ATMs have been launching in Africa. Photo – AP – Kin Cheung

Cryptocurrency ATMs

Cryptocurrency has been a tech buzzword for some time now, but South Africa’s first cryptocurrency ATM officially launched in Johannesburg this past May, thanks to blockchain firm Vendibit, making it possible for South Africans to purchase various cryptocurrencies including Dash, Bitcoin, Litecoin, and Ethereum using South African Rands, linked to their smartphone cryptocurrency e-wallets. Before the launch of the South African cryptocurrency ATM, only Zimbabwe and Djibouti had crypto machines in Africa from which the public could purchase Bitcoin, so the continent could certainly present an interesting study for the adoption of crypto ATMs.

Virtual reality in healthcare

The applications for virtual reality are many, but healthcare is a sector where the tech can truly touch lives. Ugandan startup Wazi Vision uses virtual reality tech to provide affordable eye care to school children who need it most and struggle to access it, according to Lionessesofafrica.

Solar solutions in remote villages

Due to insufficient capacity, poor reliability, and high costs, only around 32 percent of the population in sub-Saharan Africa has access to electricity, ENCA reports. Senegalese solar startup Oolu is a graduate of Y Combinator, and provides off-grid households in rural villages with modern energy access through solar solutions, allowing those in remote areas access to power. The startup is one of the fastest growing solar companies in the region, serving 34,000 households in Senegal, Burkina Faso and Mali, according to ImpactAlpha.

The internet of things in agriculture

The internet of things is fast becoming a major component of new tech around the globe, and the agriculture industry in Africa is seeing many examples of how this tech can modernize a traditional sector that accounts for 15 percent of the continent’s GDP, or over $100 billion annually, according to McKinsey. The many examples include M-Farm, a Kenyan startup that leverages the internet and text messaging to help farmers access market prices for produce, make aggregated orders of farm supplies, and lower costs, and Kenyan firm UjuziKilimo, which uses big data and to provide useful information regarding farming trends and productivity based on the accurate data that is generated through soil analysis.

Data-light mobile apps

Slow mobile internet speeds coupled with high mobile penetration across Africa has meant that data-light mobile apps make great sense for both the user and the company or brand providing the app. An example of this is YouTube Go, a specialized data-light version of the Google-owned online video service. YouTube Go was made available to South African users with a launch of a mobile app in September, while Nigerian users have been able to download the app since a year ago, according to AllAfrica.