Innovation in Poverty Eradication in Costa RicaCosta Rica, a country in Central America known for its beautiful Caribbean beaches and biodiversity, has the lowest rate of poverty in Central America. However, rural areas still struggle somewhat with poverty. About 20% of Costa Ricans are currently living under the poverty line, making less than $155 a month. Thankfully, there are many innovations in poverty eradication in Costa Rica helping those most affected. New technologies, for example, are helping with education both remotely and in school. Here are a few innovations in poverty eradication in Costa Rica.

Education in Costa Rica

Academically, Latin America falls behind in mathematics. Children at a young age need to learn math to get a good start in school. But without resources, children in Costa Rica struggle to get a quality education. This not only affects their test scores but also their mindsets.

High-level education is also a problem in Costa Rica. As a small country, Costa Rica lacks the required resources to provide high-quality education for all of its students. About 4% of the country’s population 15 or older currently doesn’t know how to read and write. Poor early education often leads to illiteracy in teenagers. With preschool starting at the age of four, it is important that kids get a good start right away. Thankfully, there are innovations in poverty eradication in Costa Rica working to improve education in Costa Rica.

Tech Innovation in Costa Rica

To solve this issue, researchers and the country’s education ministry have implemented a pilot program focused on math and programming skills for preschool students. The Pensalo program offers a highly intelligent robot named “Albert” to assist students. This robot scans a series of flashcards, helps with sharpening memory and shows instructions that use mathematical and numerical concepts. This innovation in poverty eradication in Costa Rica has impacted 392 schools in four different provinces. So far, this robot has given children a great start to education.

Albert’s Impact

SK Telecom designed Albert after an agreement with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) to figure out a solution so that kids can have more opportunities to grow and learn in Costa Rica. With IDB being a good source of development in financing for Latin America, it was able to provide 1,500 robots for schools. Not only does this help education in Costa Rica, but it can also set a good influence in different countries. Albert shows that Costa Rica is able to create a sustainable level of quality education.

This is one of many innovations in poverty eradication in Costa Rica that have helped provide a good education to young students. Thanks to the Albert robot, children can now get a strong start to their education. This will have a ripple effect in the future, as education is a significant obstacle for children to overcome to escape poverty.

Rachel Hernandez
Photo: Pixabay

cobots in developing countriesAutomation has often been discussed as the enemy of progress, taking jobs and resources away from low-skilled workers. However, recent reports suggest that cobots offer a compromise for small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), particularly in the developing world. Though the effects of widespread use remain to be seen, the use of cobots in developing countries has already had positive effects, according to leading Danish robotics company Universal Robotics (UR).

What Are Cobots?

The first cobot (collaborative robot) was invented in 1996 by J. Edward Colgate and Michael Peshkin, both professors at Northwestern University. At the time, the invention was called a “programmable constraint machine.” Since then, human beings in companies across the world have been working alongside cobots, using the machines’ superior strength and accuracy to enhance processes from surgery to crop harvesting. Cobots differ from robots mainly in that they are not dangerous; they are much smaller and lighter and can work in close proximity to people. They are also not pre-programmed, and they can be trained to complete a process repetitively and even refine their abilities, improving as they go.

Cobots represent a growing industry worldwide, having generated $580.8 million in 2018. This growing industry, UR says, is expected to be worth over $9 billion by 2024. The industry is also relevant in developing nations such as Malaysia, where experts expect the use of cobots to increase.

Challenges to Manufacturing in Developing Nations

Emergent economies often struggle to match already-developed areas of the world in terms of productivity. Human labor alone cannot exceed the work done by human-cobot teams because of the advantages in strength and accuracy that cobots offer. Many poorer nations are not prepared to front the ever-increasing cost of feedstock, while also using devalued currencies to invest in technological solutions. On the other hand, they cannot afford to keep doing things the same way, says UR. Cobots offer crucial innovation that doesn’t empty the coffers.

From “Dull, Dirty, Dangerous and Dear” to Dynamic Careers

Popular culture often presents robots as adversaries; movies and books narrate universal fears of robots taking over human life and livelihood. But many of the jobs lost to automation, such as jobs in mining and sewage, fall into categories that are sometimes referred to using the four D’s: dirty, dangerous, dull (demeaning) and dear (expensive).”

Cobots can help reduce workplace injuries involving heavy and repetitive lifting, for example. And since cobots specifically require a human partner in order to be effective, using cobots does not necessarily result in the loss of a job. In fact, it could mean just the opposite: training people to operate cobots frees them from mundane tasks, making them more qualified, a phenomenon known as “upskilling.” This results in a more knowledgeable workforce whose lives are enriched by more fulfilling careers. In this way, cobots in developing countries can be part of the solution, not the problem.

Darrell Adams, the director of UR in Southeast Asia and Oceania, said of cobots: “Tomorrow’s workplaces will be run by highly skilled workers assisted by intelligent devices. Cobots help to automate and streamline repetitive and potentially unsafe processes, thus ensuring a safe work environment while increasing productivity and efficiency.”

The Successes of Cobots in Developing Countries

Cobots in developing countries have already had a degree of success. For example, in India, one automobile parts manufacturer, Craft and Technik Industries (CATI), saw the urgent need for more precision in its operations. A workforce deficit meant that manual work often resulted in errors and waste. However, after the addition of a UR cobot used to perform quality control, the company stopped experiencing these errors. At the same time, production jumped by 15-20%.

UR believes that cobots could offer up to a 30% boost in manufacturing output of SMEs in developing countries such as Malaysia. According to UR, as of 2020, most Malaysian companies automate less than half of their operations. This could be because industrial robots are simply too expensive for SMEs to afford.

Smaller, more practical cobots in developing countries make better financial and logistical sense because they are easy to put to immediate use, without causing invasive stoppages in production for installation. “With the assistance of cobots, local manufacturers can achieve higher levels of efficiency and rapid productivity gains,” said Adams.

According to UR, companies that have opted to automate their processes using cobots can slash production errors while boosting productivity by as much as 300%. For SMEs in the developing world, though, the most compelling evidence is in return on investment (ROI). Companies who have recently signed on to cobot technology can achieve ROI in about a year.

Automation and Policymaking

It is clear that developing nations will have to confront how to “upskill” workers in a way that accounts for socioeconomic differences and the gaps in access those differences can cause. In some countries such as Thailand, policymakers have already convened to form organizations dedicated to developing automation industries while equipping workers with the skills needed to keep up with those advances. But some economists are skeptical that this would be the norm in most countries, and propose a government-provided basic income for those who have lost employment. Whatever the case, with robots already here to stay, it seems clear that cobots in developing countries offer the happy medium that these countries need to compete in an increasingly automated world.

Andrea Kruger
Photo: Flickr

COVID-19 in RwandaRwanda is now using five anti-epidemic robots to help combat COVID-19. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), an organization working to end global poverty using sustainable practices, donated the robots. The robots’ names are Akazuba, Ikizere, Mwiza, Ngabo and Urumuri. The country received the robots on May 19, 2020, at its Kanyinya Treatment Centre located in the capital city of Kigali, which has taken the brunt of cases of COVID-19 in Rwanda.

About Anti-Epidemic Robots

The robots have the capacity to take temperatures of patients and screen up to 150 people every minute for symptoms. They can also store medical records and capture visual and auditory data for later use by medical personnel. According to Minister of Health Daniel Ngamije, the robots can detect when someone is not wearing a mask. They can then notify staff so the issue can be swiftly and safely resolved. Additionally, the robots can deliver food and medicine to both COVID-19 patients and healthcare workers. They are also able to communicate accurate information about the virus.

Since the outbreak, more than 90,000 healthcare workers around the world have contracted COVID-19 as a result of contact with patients. By utilizing anti-epidemic robots, the Rwandan Ministry of Health hopes to keep medical personnel safe by reducing contact with patients. The robots can also get people the help they need faster and can partially make up for low physician density. As of 2017, Rwanda has only 0.13 physicians per 1,000 people. According to the World Health Organization, anything less than 2.3 physicians per 1,000 of the population is insufficient.

Impact of COVID-19 Globally

COVID-19 has rapidly spread across the globe in a matter of months. Although the outbreak impacts many lives, the lives and futures of vulnerable populations have been particularly affected. The UNDP predicts human development—health, education and standard of living—will decline in all regions of the world. This would be the first decrease in the 30 years the measure has been in use. The World Bank says people living in extreme poverty could increase by 40 to 60 million this year. At this rate, up to 50% of people could lose their jobs and the economy could potentially lose $10 trillion. In addition, more than 250 million people worldwide could face hunger. Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia are projected to take the biggest blows.

Rwanda, in particular, is quite vulnerable in these aspects. As of 2015, 39.1% of the population lives below the poverty line. In addition, 23.9% do not have access to an improved water source and 38.4% of the population does not have access to improved sanitation facilities. These issues, on top of the high population density, mean COVID-19 has the potential to spread faster and more easily. COVID-19 in Rwanda has the potential to push these vulnerable populations deeper into poverty.

Despite these issues, Rwanda’s introduction of anti-epidemic robots is a step in the right direction. The country has the potential of both slowing the spread of COVID-19 and improving the quality of medical care. Reducing poverty in Rwanda will take time and a coordinated effort. As of right now, battling the effects of COVID-19 is of the utmost importance.

– Elizabeth Davis
Photo: Flickr

Robotics and Programming EducationTyrone van Balla, a young South African entrepreneur, has designed a course for robotics and programming education in order to teach African children more about electronics and technology. His company, RD9 Solutions, provides accessible and affordable EdTech, or educational technology, with their innovative robots. Van Balla, originally from Cape Town, South Africa, grew up with access to a computer and now realizes how important it is for today’s children to be exposed to technology in order to be successful. As the global economy becomes more dependent on tech-savvy employees, it is imperative that Africa’s youth have the opportunity to learn these skills. That is exactly what van Balla and partner Ridhaa Benefeld plan to provide through various technologies at RD9 Solutions.

Access to technology and STEM education in many African countries is limited. In fact, UNESCO reported that only 22 percent of schools in sub-Saharan Africa have access to electricity, let alone any further technology. This is exactly the issue which van Balla and Benefeld plan to address through their company. Additionally, the African Union’s Agenda 2063 aims to provide full access to education, training, skills and technology for Africa’s youth, which accounts for 19 percent of the global population aged 15-24 years, by 2063. The sheer quantity of young, working-age people in Africa has the potential to yield great economic benefit for the continent. With both the government and companies like RD9 Solutions working towards a common goal, there is the possibility for huge changes in the education sector in Africa.

With the help of MiiA, the robot that the two entrepreneurs created, students can be taught robotics and programming education for other technologies. Programming is one of the most valuable modern skills and MiiA the robot helps these children quickly learn how to be efficient programmers. Students are able to program MiiA robots to do simple actions like drive, dance and play ping-pong or soccer. Once the children learn more about programming, the possibilities with MiiA are limitless, as it can be programmed to do just about anything. A robot like MiiA is so useful in Africa because it operates as a self-teaching tool, so there does not necessarily need to be someone present that knows how to program. This allows children in all parts of the continent to become self-taught programmers.

In the next five years, van Balla envisions the robots being available all throughout Africa. He also plans on this technology having a lasting impact on African youth. With a growing job skills gap, it is necessary that the education systems in African countries capitalize on this opportunity for their young people. In fact, STEM jobs alone have grown over 17 percent in the past few years creating an immediate need for more skilled workers. MiiA robots will allow students to be exposed to educational technology at an early age and develop those skills throughout their time in school. Once they enter the workforce, their programming skills will be extremely valuable to potential employers.

– Jessica Haidet
Photo: Flickr