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Africa is a hotbed of exciting new IoT innovations

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Tony Smallwood

Executive Head of Vodacom IoT Solution, South Africa

Unlike many other regions, Africa is unencumbered by legacy technology and infrastructure — and the costs associated with overhauling it. That’s one reason it’s proving to be a perfect blank slate for innovating with the Internet of Things (IoT).

But IoT is also taking hold in Africa because of its potential to tackle so many of the challenges facing the continent — from limited access to well-equipped hospitals (at least outside of the biggest cities) to uncertain food supplies caused by drought and floods. We’re already seeing examples of how IoT solutions are being used to tackle these issues head-on — and, in doing so, truly change people’s lives.

In our Why Africa is feeling the power of IoT article, which we posted last year, we described how the continent is harnessing IoT to connect some of its most remote areas. We used the example of BBOXX, an off-grid energy supplier, which uses IoT to supply solar power generators to African consumers in rural areas.

Some of the latest innovations

Here are some more of the exciting tech innovations that are bringing socio-economic benefits to Africa.

SMS for Life 2.0

SMS for Life 2.0 is designed to improve access to public healthcare in Kaduna State, Nigeria — a region where many people are underserved by existing medical care. Inadequate drug supply is a particular problem, with essential medications often failing to reach the people who need them. SMS for Life aims to improve the delivery of healthcare for these people by increasing the availability of vital medications, using connected devices such as cabinet chillers to track and monitor drug stock levels. Insights from the data captured are also helping to improve the accuracy and efficiency of stock distribution.

Virtual Teacher

Virtual Teacher is an interactive technology platform developed to give South African schoolchildren — particularly those in remote places where good schools and qualified teachers are harder to find — better access to quality teachers and up-to-date educational resources. The platform allows an individual teacher to deliver lessons in real-time, through a range of smart devices, to multiple remote classrooms or locations. It’s the possibilities for live pupil-teacher interactions that makes it exciting though: learners can communicate directly with the teachers throughout the lessons with a texting Q&A facility.

Connected Farmer

Connected Farmer is a platform that aims to overcome some of the challenges faced by farmers, such as food security. It does this by giving farmers better access to data and information, on anything from food prices to weather forecasts. Currently, a large number of farmers — around 200,000 smallholder and two million subsistence farmers —have next to no market information to help guide their business decisions, which not only hampers their growth prospects but puts them at risk of being blindsided by unexpected events. In turn, little is known about them and how they operate and this makes it hard for agribusinesses and policymakers to consider them alongside the bigger players in their plans. Better data capture can help the farming sector to build up a more complete picture of its strengths and weaknesses, and identify ways to improve efficiency and productivity.

Transformative technology

As IoT technology further weaves its way into the fabric of society, it could become a key enabler of economic and social development. It promises to do this by enhancing service delivery, improving data collection and strengthening accountability — all key to bolstering public services, such as healthcare and education. These initiatives, and others like them, could prove transformative for Africa.

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