Three key start-ups from Africa's top science forum

March 13, 2016 by Jennifer O'mahony
Senegalese President Macky Sall (L) delivers a speech in Dakar, during the opening of the "Next Einstein Forum" (NEF)
Senegalese President Macky Sall (L) delivers a speech in Dakar, during the opening of the "Next Einstein Forum" (NEF)

From disease-fighting drones to wristbands bearing health data for expectant mothers—African entrepreneurs pitched ideas to overhaul everything from healthcare to urban planning before an audience of industry figures at the first gathering of the Next Einstein Forum in Dakar, Senegal this week.

Here are three of the best:

DRONES TO FIGHT DISEASE

Moses Bangura, Sierra Leone

Bangura developed a civilian drone system to deliver medical supplies and transport clinical samples as part of his PhD in aerial robotics. He hopes to roll out the project first in his home country and then across hard-to-reach areas in Africa.

"It's very reliable and robust, an open source system which anyone can develop," he said.

"I thought about giving back to Sierra Leone and Africa, where I come from... one thing I realised is there is a very poor healthcare delivery system."

During the Ebola crisis, the first two hotspots were in the eastern towns of Kailahun and Kenema, linked by an extremely poor road that meant a distance of 100 kilometres (62 miles) could take a day's travel.

"In both Kailahun and Kenema, the greatest need was for more treatment facilities backed by greater and faster laboratory support," the World Health Organization said in a report during the outbreak.

"The cheapest and most efficient way would be to use civilian drones," Bangura told AFP, to ship , blood donations, and getting tests to mobile laboratories.

Bangura hopes his drones will take off within 18 months, subject to government legislation.

A WRISTBAND TO SAVE WOMEN'S LIVES

Cameroon's Arreytambe Tabot

Software engineer Tabot has already received seed money from the Nelson Mandela African Institute of Science and Technology for his team's smart wristband, which works with mobile technology to provide real-time care for expectant mothers.

Maternal sepsis is the third leading cause of maternal deaths in Africa, where more women die in childbirth than anywhere else, and Tabot says his invention is aimed at women in who are largely illiterate.

It "does not require any behavioural change on the part of the primary user," working without messaging or apps, which usually require some reading ability, Tabot said.

A combination of voice commands and Radio Frequency Identification technology, previously used to register voters in Nigeria, holds data on vital signs from regular check-ups on the device, tentatively priced at $1.50.

"Every time she comes back to the local health centre the wristband is accessed and if there are any changes then that is registered again and synchronised back into the cloud," Tabot told AFP.

"These women are illiterate, a good number are in rural areas so they don't even know (sepsis) is a problem," he said, adding the wristbands will trial first in Nigeria.

Any problem or discomfort can be registered by the expectant mother with a health practitioner via a missed call.

BUILDING CITIES FROM PLASTIC WASTE

Moussa Thiam, Mali

Thiam is still studying for his PhD at Canada's University of Ottawa, but is already forming links with government agencies back home to sell his special brand of building material created from plastic waste.

With expertise also built up as an alumni of Senegal's African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS), Thiam wants to improve the environment in rapidly growing African cities while tackling pollution.

"Long-term I want to be in Mali and West Africa," he said.

Mixing the surplus plastic with gravel and sand in a special oven results in a product that could be used for interior design or even roads, offering a cheap and sustainable alternative to concrete, he said.

"We don't have (proper planning) in our urbanisation strategies," he told AFP. "Maybe we have the text, but when we come to the application we don't have enough.

"What we are trying to do is build some new, innovative material," he added.

Explore further: African scientists say more needed to keep brightest at home

Related Stories

Landmark science forum aims to halt Africa brain drain

March 8, 2016

Africa's top scientists, policymakers and start-ups gathered Tuesday for a landmark conference aimed at stemming the continent's brain drain and encouraging governments to nurture research in fields from virology to maths.

Red Cross nurse dies from Ebola in Sierra Leone

January 16, 2015

A nurse working for the Red Cross in Sierra Leone has died of Ebola in the eastern district of Kenema, where no new cases had been reported for 37 days, the organisation said Thursday.

Recommended for you

'Droneboarding' takes off in Latvia

January 22, 2017

Skirted on all sides by snow-clad pine forests, Latvia's remote Lake Ninieris would be the perfect picture of winter tranquility—were it not for the huge drone buzzing like a swarm of angry bees as it zooms above the solid ...

Singapore 2G switchoff highlights digital divide

January 22, 2017

When Singapore pulls the plug on its 2G mobile phone network this year, thousands of people could be stuck without a signal—digital have-nots left behind by the relentless march of technology.

Making AI systems that see the world as humans do

January 19, 2017

A Northwestern University team developed a new computational model that performs at human levels on a standard intelligence test. This work is an important step toward making artificial intelligence systems that see and understand ...

Firms push hydrogen as top green energy source

January 18, 2017

Over a dozen leading European and Asian firms have teamed up to promote the use of hydrogen as a clean fuel and cut the production of harmful gasses that lead to global warming.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.