As technology rapidly advances worldwide, Africa finds new uses for it. From the more illicit uses, such as internet scams that entwine themselves into African stereotypes, to the more positive innovations such as using mobile phones to support the health care system. I read this article about Africa’s most innovative tech hacks, on the Guardian page. Today, I will give my own perspective on some of these ‘hacks’ and add a few that I have found.
The first item on the Guardian’s list is 3D printed limbs. 3D printing is a fantastic innovation that looks set to change the way we shop for certain items. A time will come when we can print our replacement part for a car, or a decoration for the house. In this case, 3d printers have been used by Not Impossible Labs, founded on the principle of Technology for the Sake of Humanity, to create prosthetic limbs for children that lost limbs during the South Sudan war. Another, the RoboBeast, which is an Africa ready, durable 3D printer, that can be “thrown in the back of a Land Rover and carted off to the bush” and therefore enable customised printing to be undertaken anywhere.
But, these are not the only 3D printer innovations. In 2013 a Togolese inventor, Kodjo Afate Gnikoe, created a 3D printer almost entirely out of scavenged e waste. E-waste is a real problem in Africa, with computers and televisions, amongst other things, being dumped from Europe and America, across the continent. Kodjo built this 3D printer using just $100! He envisages that the 3D printer will have the same impact on society as that “of the steam engine in the 19th century.” I tend to agree with him. It could revolutionise car maintenance, the health sector (with even organs and bones being printed), the energy sector (wind turbines can be printed), not to mention the tools etc that can be printed.
In Angola, they have hacked the internet! Well, part of it. Facebook and Wikimedia rolled out its free service in 2015, and immediately users found ways of sharing files across the platforms. To do this they hide movies or music in wikipedia articles and link to them on closed Facebook groups, enabling users to download content for free in a country where data is very expensive. I do not condone illegal file sharing, but this just shows the capability of people with a goal. The ability to share information is very important to Africa. People are limited by the high cost of accessing the internet. If information of any kind can be shared cleverly like this, it will further the cause of democracy and transparency.
Thembalethu clinic, in Eastern Cape, South Africa, a system using readily available hardware and software and changed the way people can access medical advice. By using digital cameras, Photoshop and email, doctors have been able to contact specialists in order to diagnose their patience X-rays. This article suggests that whilst Eastern Cape has 83 health care facilities with X-ray facilities, but no radiologists. This situation is not rare as much of the continent lacks specialist health care skills, which could be provided remotely. There are schemes out there that offer live consulting remotely using tablets. Another I found enables cardiologists to monitor patients using a special tablet. The tablets include a wireless set of four electrodes and a sensor that are attached to the patient. When it has taken the ECG, the data is then submitted to a national data centre to be diagnosed by cardiologists.
The last hack that interested me is the ATM machine, developed at the Right to Care project in Johannesburg which enables patients to take out their antiretroviral drugs with a special ATM card. With its own power source, as well as a web cam link to a pharmacist, the system offers privacy and speed for those who need the drugs.
With tracking devices, wearable tech, mobile phones and tables, energy saving technology, etc etc etc, as well as the innovative nature of Africans, the hacks in Africa are going to solve many of the problems faced there. I envisage more health care hacks, as well as methods to increase power storage and provide clean water to the continent.