IBM Research - Africa
Developing solutions in Africa, for Africa and the world
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The African continent accounts for 14 percent of the world's population and is one of the fastest growing economies in the world. With a growth rate expected to average 7 percent annually over the next 20 years, Africa is poised to become a leading source of innovation in a variety of industries. To further enhance the scientific and technology base on the African continent, the IBM Research - Africa team in Nairobi, Kenya has been conducting research projects for the past year while the laboratory was under construction. Over the past year, a team of seasoned IBM scientists and new recruits, starting with 20 PhDs, have joined the lab.
IBM Research - Africa is IBM's 12th global laboratory and the first commercial technology research facility on the continent conducting both applied and far-reaching exploratory research. IBM Research's presence in Kenya has been encouraging and strengthening an innovative culture, and forging partnerships with businesses, research organizations and universities across Africa and around the world.
“ My government is proud that Kenya, and Africa will benefit from the presence of one of the most advanced research facilities, with some of the world’s most talented people, using some of the most powerful technologies to develop solutions in Africa for Africa. ”
His Excellency, the President of Kenya, Hon. Uhuru Kenyatta
Solving Africa’s grand challenges
The lab's research agenda includes the development of cognitive computing technologies that can be applied to address issues in public health, education and agriculture. A number of projects are already underway in the areas of energy, water, transportation, agriculture, healthcare, financial inclusion and human mobility and public safety.
Traffic congestion is a major problem in Nairobi. In association with Kenyan internet service provider Access Kenya, IBM has developed a pilot solution to enable commuters in Nairobi to use their mobile phones to get advice on driving routes through the city depending on estimates of traffic congestion.
Using deep analytics and specialized algorithms to translate visual data received from CCTV cameras positioned around Nairobi, citizens can use their mobile phones to receive updates on road conditions and suggestions for alternative routes. With only 36 cameras currently installed around Nairobi, IBM researchers have augmented data using mathematical network analytics allowing the system to predict traffic in parts of town where no data feeds are available.
Dubbed Twende Twende – meaning 'Let's Go' in Swahili - the system works on traditional phones via SMS-based query system and on smart phones via an app through which users can view a map of the city showing route options and potential traffic hotspots. IBM's researchers are currently working to extend the capabilities of the solution to include data on public safety, weather conditions and road works to create a localized view of human mobility.
With over 30 million subscribers on Kenya's mobile phone networks covering 77 percent of the population, the mobile phone has emerged as a powerful tool to reach groups without access to financial and value added services.
In partnership with local firms Flashcast and Kuza Biashara, IBM has developed a solution that offers small businesses without budgets for large advertising campaigns, to engage their customers through their mobiles.
Matangazo – the Swahili word for 'advertising' - uses GPS and mobile technology to allow micro enterprises in Nairobi to advertise to over 500 million public transport users, allowing for location-based, geo-targeted ads.
Through an interactive multimedia mobile phone app and SMS service, IBM has enabled 25 small businesses in Nairobi to leverage Flashcast's advertising platform using a solution that allows for multimedia, location-based ads to be delivered directly to mobile phones of users who opt in for the service.
IBM views creating science and technology leaders of the future as a key part of its research mission. However, a skills shortage is hindering innovation and leadership of new industry in Africa. In order to help universities produce highly-qualified and technically skilled graduates, IBM Research – Africa has established a new resident scientist program for schools in Kenya and other African countries. These applicants are top-tier scientists and researchers from pre and post-doctoral backgrounds, as well as from academia, government or industry, and work side- by-side with IBM researchers in the lab.
Dedication to Africa
IBM has had a direct presence in Africa for more than 60 years that today spans 20 countries, including Egypt, South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya. IBM Research – Africa is just one of many ways in which IBM is investing in Africa and developing its economic capacity.