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Data acquisition is at the crux of the Internet of Things (IoT). And no place is data so scarce and so crucial than in emerging economies. There is a dire need for data acquisition when it comes to various fast-growing sectors, from climate change and health to brand advertising. With IoT becoming increasingly accessible, entrepreneurs are presented with massive opportunities to help gain insight and ultimately overcome challenges the emerging world are facing.
Africa is often referred to as the mobile continent. That’s no surprise. South Africa, for instance, is figured to have a mobile phone penetration of around 128%. Kenya, on the other hand, has over 4.5 million monthly users on Facebook, of which 95% are on mobile.
While we see innovative solutions such as mobile money service M-Pesa grow to be used by 70% of households in Kenya, there’s still a persisting digital divide that looms over large parts of the world’s emerging markets.
Internet giants Facebook, Google and Opera are all finding innovative ways in using the mobile phone to bring Africa’s population online which, in turn, enable brands to connect with more potential customers. Similar to how mobile phones have leapfrogged landlines, and therefore opened up new opportunities to connect the bulk of countries’ populations, so too can radio frequency identifiers (RFID) tags, sensors, and actuators.
With over 30 billion IoT-related devices expected by 2020, the fast-growing technology is allowing the world to acquire data from areas and processes that, before, were too complicated or onerous. Sensors used for IoT are becoming faster, smaller, and cheaper, while the ability to analyse data more effectively is getting fine-tuned. There should be little doubt that Africa’s innovators will take advantage of this technology, similar to how many have with the mobile phone.
Below are just a couple of examples of how the emerging technology can be used to tackle some of the continent’s challenges:
Some of South Africa’s most pressing issues boils down to that of health. HIV/AIDS, Malaria and TB are among the many issues that the country’s health services need to deal with. While there’s never only one solution to a complicated problem, IoT could enable relevant authorities to better understand and monitor patients’ conditions.
In a report published by the CSIR in 2013, it highlights the potential applications for IoT and other technologies within South Africa’s health services sector. It points out how today small portable devices and tags are used to unobtrusively monitor the user in order to detect health problems such as falls and diseases. And how something like Glowcap, a wireless chip, can help people stick to their medicine’s prescription plans.
With the help of RFID tags in ambulances or police cars, together with wireless sensor nodes on the roads, dispatch control centres can collect real-time traffic conditions where wireless sensor nodes are located. Response time could be cut down dramatically.
Crises response and prevention:
Whether it’s poaching, a wild-fire or any other disaster you can think of, there are a lot of opportunities for startups to leverage IoT to create an environmental impact.
Natural disasters tend to strike harder in rural areas where people lack communication, and authorities proper insight. A fire-detection device like that of Lumkani’s enables communities, as well as authorities, to act as soon as there’s danger and the fire spreads.
Distributed sensors around earthquake-prone areas could help with early detection. Similar to how discarded mobile phones are being used to monitor 10 000 hectares of rainforest to detect logging or poaching, so too can devices be used to prevent forest fires by monitoring temperature and moisture.
In terms of B2C, retail is probably the most common area you’ll find applications for IoT. Around the globe, startups are helping brands to better communicate with customers.
Beaconeye, for instance, is a South African startups which last year launched a system which sends push notifications or enables customers to earn loyalty points just by walking into specific stores. Payments startup SnapScan, on the other hand, is allowing wireless payment transactions using its bluetooth-enabled technology, called SnapBeacons.
While services such as these are very much being experimented with in the developed world, there’s still a large gap in emerging markets.
Whether it be droughts or floods, early warning systems or micro-controlled environments can help farmers make the best with what the unpredictable climate has to offer.
Smart farming has become a popular buzzword these days, marrying technology and agriculture. While IoT enables DIY hackers to easily grow their own mushrooms in their basements using bluetooth sensors and the like, it similarly enables large-scale farmers to optimise their operations.
Illuminum is a startup behind an innovative greenhouse that uses solar panels and sensor technology to create a micro-controlled environment in which you can grow and monitor crops. The smart greenhouse can collect data that ranges from temperature, soil moisture and so on, to help optimise growth. Similar applications are realistic in larger farm areas.
Similar to how mobile phones are being used to plug holes where infrastructure is lacking, so too will connected Things. Unlike massive tech companies, startups have the advantage to quickly adapt and implement new technologies to fit their communities’ specific needs.
The IoT Focus is a series of articles appearing across the Burn Media sites. Brought to you by General Electric, the series explores what impact the Internet of Things is having on business, homes, startups, and other aspects of our everyday lives.