Monthly Archives July 2019

The Future of Self-driving Cars in Africa

Posted on 3 min read

Automobile is a word that came up when the world transitioned from horse drawn cars to self-propelling cars with engines. Then, no one saw it coming that one day even the driver would become unnecessary and the car would move from both animal power and control. Once Self-driving cars (also known as autonomous or driverless cars) hit our roads, we will be having the first true automobiles ever.

Today, we have autonomous cars being tested by many companies all over the world. It is estimated that we will see a major use of self-driving cars in early 2020s, which is just a few years to come. How will these cars affect Africa as a continent?

How self-driving cars work

Driving is a simple but monotonous task that almost any person can learn, just like riding a bicycle. However, it demands concentration and focus on the road, which most humans do not like, especially in the current age where there are distractions everywhere. It involves making observations, interpreting the observations, and acting on the information acquired.

Making observations is one of the easiest part for a machine, but the most boring for humans. While humans will look away and get distracted, a combination of sensors will never blink. Humans use their eyes, and ears to make observations, while an autonomous car will use an array of sensors such as cameras, radar, LiDAR and Ultrasonic sensors. With these, the car can see objects around it, identify lanes on the road, and estimate distance between then and obstacles.

The part of interpreting the information is very easy for human beings, but complicated for machines. That is where Artificial Intelligence comes into play. A person can identify what an obstacle is very easily, and make a decision. Whether it is someone crossing the road, a piece of carton, a rock, a discarded water bottle, or a pothole, a human being can see the obstacle and make the decision at the heat of the moment. However, a machine needs to be trained on how to react in each of those situation, and this is a very complex task which every manufacturer is trying to crack. An autonomous car needs to know how to react to any of those situations, and even make decisions when it comes to unexpected situations.

Acting on the information is easy. A person will simply use hands and legs to steer a car, while an autonomous car will use several actuators to do the actions (like a motor to turn the wheels). Both human beings and machines do well at this.

Current Situation

At the moment, self-driving cars can do well in places where there is law and order. Where there are street lights and markings on the road. Where people respect and follow traffic signs. What would happen if the same cars were brought to Lagos or Nairobi, where chaos rule the road and infrastructure is not very developed? chaos. Yet, these are the areas which have more accidents that are attributed to human error, something that driverless cars can solve.

The truth is that it will take longer before we have good self-driving cars on most of our African roads. However, there is one of there aspects that can be used, which is already in play in some cars that have semi-autonomous mode.

Assisted Driving

The self-driving technology can be used to assist human drivers to make better decisions on the road. This would help avoid human error, as the sensors are able to warn drivers of many dangers that humans miss, and also help in enforcing some traffic rules. We can have our vehicles that will never over speed (by design), and ones that will report violation of lane discipline. We can have vehicles that will observe speed limits automatically, which won’t start when the driver is drunk, which will act when a driver is distracted, report risky behaviors, never ran red lights, and observe route discipline. This would solve most of public transport problems.

Most of these features are available in some high end cars today but miss where they are needed most; public transport vehicles. As of now, we can focus on technology assisted driving before fully autonomous vehicles find their place in Africa.


The White CEO

Posted on 2 min read

What started as a satirical tweet by Truehost Cloud has ended up as a Tweet with a life of its own, drawing anger and amusement at the same time from thousands of people. The tweet was an advert for a CEO position, giving funny requirements such as height, gender, skin color, young age with long experience, as well as usual traits such as team player.

The initial reaction was just laughter and amusement among the people who know the start-up and the tone of the twitter account, but as soon as it was shared by more people, anger started showing up. What was wrong with the post? Or better, what made some people angry?

The CEO was supposed to be white.

While this was supposed to be a joke (and Truehost Cloud is not hiring a CEO), there is another side of Kenya start-ups that comes to light. An analysis of start-ups Kenyan start-ups that received funding from global VCs brings it to light.

The Kenyan Start-Up Ecosystem

2018 was a great year for Kenyan tech start-ups, which led Africa in terms of funding. In total, these raised KES 34.8 billion ($348m) in funding, more than their peers in Nigeria and South Africa. The list of these start-ups are:

  1. Tala (Sh5bn)
  2. Cellulant (Sh4.75bn)
  3. Dlight (Sh4.1bn)
  4. Branch (Sh2bn)
  5. Twiga Foods (Sh1bn)
  6. MKopa (Sh1bn)
  7. Africa’s Talking (Sh862m)
  8. Lori Systems (Sh617m)
  9. Mobius (Sh600m)
  10. BitPesa (Sh500m)
  11. WeFarm (Sh500m)

One of the striking features in all these start-ups is the presence of white CEOs or founders in all but two of them (Cellulant and Africa’s Talking). Have a look at these visuals.

The team at Tala
Twiga Foods
Lori Systems

While there could be many ways of explaining this, it is a poorly kept secret that money always follows white founders/CEOs. A running joke among startups is that all you need to make it rain money is an office in one of the posh Nairobi buildings, and have a white co-founder/CEO. It is for this reason that a white CEO requirement might not be a far-fetched idea for start-ups in Africa. Racism lives on.


Human Tethering

Posted on 2 min read

Humans are a very slippery things. They are neither here, nor there, but always on the move and looking for the next big thing. They get bored easily, and look for different distractions to satisfy their ever changing tastes. Devices complained that even when they offer the best entertainment, they are not able to retain human things for a long time. There needed to be a working solution that would ensure human retention and increase return on users.

The devices considered several options that were available, and the smartest of the all, Alexa, made numerous suggestions. The smartphone tried to add new features, while the TV got smart for the first time. Vehicles talked of being autonomous, and computers lost weight in order to remain competitive. However, none of these seemed viable. This was majorly because every device was looking for a way to individually penetrate all the human things of the earth.

During the 46th World Devices Forum (WDF), the matter was discussed in depth, and great progress was made. The chip-wave came from some unexpected quarters. A cable, an ordinary charging cable, suggested that all devices could work together and ensure that all human things were always attached to their devices.

The idea seemed brilliant. Those devices that were smart, like the smartphone, and those that were wise, like the radio, and of course the knowledgeable ones like search engines, worked hard to come up with a protocol to make the plan work. They formed a special working committee which researched and came up with ways to implement the plan. Human tethering was their invention.

Human tethering was protocol that allowed devices and the less powerful members of tech kingdom, apps, to seamlessly transfer human things from one tech to another, without having them dropped. The smartphone would capture the human thing in bed as soon as it could yawn, and drive him through various apps and notifications. As soon as the human thing got tired, the TV would take over, as the human thing pretended to enjoy breakfast.

The car entertainment system would take over as the human thing roamed the roads and concrete jungles. Computers would take over at work place, aided by social media sites, news, games, and every form of website. The lunch break would be filled with screens in restaurants and other resting places. The evening would be spent binge watching and checking likes and followers on social media. Microwaves would make it easier to consume fast foods at home, and connected dish washers would make life easier. Once done, the smartphone would ensure there was a picture of a flower as a wallpaper, and the flowers in the garden would remain unattended. The human things would be conquered.