African Technological InnovationsOver the last few years, innovators and inventors have been springing up across the African continent to deliver buzzworthy technological advancements to the world. Though Africa is not conventionally thought of as a global tech powerhouse, the continent is certainly on the rise and gaining recognition for developing original and important technologies. There are a lot of brilliant minds coming out of African countries, and they are using their intellect, resolve and resourcefulness to introduce groundbreaking inventions to the world. These three contemporary African technological innovations are the first of their kind and well worth learning more about.

The First Recycled 3D Printer

With a population of just 7.6 million people, Togo is one of the smallest countries in Africa. In recent years, this small nation gained worldwide recognition for accomplishing an incredible feat. In the city of Lome, a team of young innovators operates Woelab, a fablab launched in 2012 where local makers come together to collaborate and create. In 2013, Woelab developed the world’s first fully-functional 3D printer made entirely from recycled parts. Made from used computer parts and other finds, the Woelab innovation is one shining example of resourcefulness, sustainability and ingenuity.

In the years after this impressive first, several creators throughout the African continent have followed in Woelab’s footsteps, creating recycled 3D printers and putting them to use in their own countries. Buni Hub in Tanzania and KLAKS 3D in Ghana have sprung up in recent years, creating and dispensing their own 3D printers to benefit national industries. Kenyan startups Micrive Infinite and African Born 3D are currently using 3D printers to help hospitals cut production costs and become more efficient.

African Technological Innovations Include the First Digital Laser

Another exciting example of African technological innovations comes out of South Africa. Dr. Sandile Ngcobo, a researcher for the country’s Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, developed an important invention that could revolutionize the worlds of science, medicine and information and communications technology. In 2013, while working on his PhD, Ngcobo created the world’s first digital laser.

Traditional lasers use beams of light that can only be modified with various shaping devices like lenses and mirrors. Ngcobo’s laser does not require these devices. Rather, this laser beam is shaped electronically via computer. The digital laser has applications across several disciplines and is making all the meticulous effort that goes into producing technology using lasers a good deal simpler.

The First Neurotechnology Device

Perhaps the one of the most profound African technological innovations to be introduced to the world in recent times comes from a Nigerian physicist. Oshi Agabi brought forth a groundbreaking innovation called the Koniku Kore in 2017. Named for the Yoruba word for “immortal”, the Koniku Kore is the world’s first neurotechnology device. It combines live neurons and stem cells from mice into a silicon chip, and it has applications for several real-world problems. The device may have the ability to detect cancer cells and explosives alike, an infinitely useful technology in contemporary times.

These outstanding innovations are just three in a growing sea of inventions coming to the global market from Africa. Each of these technologies has useful applications for reducing poverty within their countries of origin and the African continent as a whole. Furthermore, they have great potential to impact the world, revolutionizing ICT, science and medicine across the globe.

– Chantel Baul

Photo: Flickr

Every year, Foreign Policy publishes a list of names in various innovative categories that have recently been especially prominent. The following are three particularly distinguished contributions from the official “Innovators” category of the 2013 Global Thinkers List:

Xiaolin Zheng, “for giving us solar power anywhere, literally”

A Stanford University professor has engineered a revolutionary object: the “solar sticker,” or a tiny cell which makes it possible for solar power to be generated on any given surface.

Cheap to manufacture, flexible and only one square centimeter in size, the “solar sticker” will change the entire market for portable power in the near future. The professor herself, believes that this is only the beginning: the material can be combined with other tools in order to create new aerospace systems, for example.

Beyond that, it will aid those stricken by poverty and/or residing in the third world to gain access to affordable, efficient power.

Jim Reeves and Martin Riddiford, “for using gravity to light the world”

Designers behind GravityLight have designed a low cost LED light which, as the name suggests, powers itself through gravity. The curious contraption consists of a medium sized lantern attached to a pole with a 25 pound bag on it.

The bag is lifted; as it slowly descends, it grinds gears that set the light motor in motion. It lasts for about half an hour – when the bag reaches the bottom, all one needs to do is lift it back up again.

The invention, praised by sponsors, has received over $400,000 USD in funding to cover the project expenses. Bill Gates described it as “pretty cool” and it is set to cost only about $5 USD. A shipment of 1,000 eco and economically friendly exemplars is expected to be sent out to Africa for initial field testing.

Bre Pettis, “for revolutionizing the way we make things”

In a five year collaboration with a Brooklyn-based hacker collective, this former schoolteacher and man of many talents has developed an affordable 3D printer.

The first prototype of this invention, MakerBot, has already sold over 15,000 copies, quickly rising in popularity.

Since 3D printers are– in modern society–visualized to be something like “the microwave of the future,” present in every household, making it affordable is an important step towards that future. The device itself has prospects of being the medium for prosthetic limb creation, among countless other possibilities.

Pettis’ and his peers’ work allows for it to be generalized, opening the world of 3D printing and modification to more people.

– Natalia Isaeva

Sources: Foreign Policy, Bre Pettis, MIT Technology Review, Inhabitat
Photo: Gizmag

Nearly 1 billion people in the world do not have access to adequate shelter. These conditions breed poverty, disease, crime, and illiteracy, among other problems. In an effort to solve this problem, Behrokh Khoshnevis, director of the Manufacturing Engineering Graduate Program at the University of Southern California, stepped up to the plate by using 3D printers.

3D Printing, also known as additive manufacturing, is the process of making three dimensional objects from a digital model. This end is achieved using additive processes, in which an object is created by adding successive layers of material until it is completed. The machines have experienced a huge growth in popularity recently and, consequently, their prices have dropped.

During a 2012 TED talk in Ojai, California, Khoshnevis shared his new 3D printing development – a process called Contour Crafting.

Contour Crafting uses 3D printers in order to build entire houses. Khoshnevis said that the machines are able to build a 2,500 square-foot house in as little as 20 hours. And these machines don’t only put up walls – they are able to implement tricky tasks, such as the electrical work, plumbing, tiling, finishing work, and even painting.

Khoshnevis’s presentation (which can be seen here) utilized a video to prove the power of these 3D printers. The problem, Khoshnevis said, lies in traditional construction that often incurs high costs due to hazardous conditions (construction kills 10,000 people every year). To keep these costs down, machines take over. The walls these machines create are hollow (in order to save money on materials and make them lighter). At the same time, however, the walls are much stronger than normal walls – withstanding about 10,000 psi.

Even more incredible is the fact that the 3D printers can print curves, allowing the buildings to be not only structurally sound but also aesthetically pleasing.

“What we are hoping to generate are entire neighborhoods that are dignified at a fraction of the cost, a fraction of the time, far more safely and with architectural flexibility that would be unprecedented,” Khoshnevis said.

The project even offers job growth: Khoshnevis pointed out that Contour Crafting will provide women and older workers a chance to work in new areas of construction.

“There will always be better economies resulted from the advancement and utilization of technologies that just make sense,” Khoshnevis said.

Khoshnevis estimated that Contour Crafting will save the construction 20-25% in financing and 25-30% in materials. The biggest savings would come in labor, where Contour Crafting would save 45-55% by using 3D printers instead of human workers. A reduction in energy usage and CO2 emissions would also be witnessed, making this project quite the promising package.

– Samantha Davis

Sources:  MashableInternational Business TimesContour Crafting
Photo:  News


NASA recently invested $125,000 in a project aimed to solve the challenges of supplying food in space missions. The project would astronauts to create their own food in space by utilizing 3D printers.

Just as a paper printer shapes ink to form letters, a 3D printer uses different materials to create a 3D object. To produce food for its astronauts in space, NASA is looking to print edible materials with 3D printers, including powdered forms of carbohydrates, proteins, and other nutrients. 3D printers could be beneficial for long space voyages because powdered substances could last up to 30 years.

While NASA may be looking to use 3D food printers for space travel, there is great potential for the use of 3D printers here on Earth, namely to end world hunger. With the long shelf life of food produce by 3D printers, the concern of food being wasted due to spoilage disappears. The powdered forms of the nutrients are also easier to transport because they exist in a more compact state.

The nutrients used in a 3D printer can also be retrieved from unconventional sources. For instance, insects could be used as a source of protein, which the UN has noted recently as a way to fight world hunger. Insects are rich in protein, emit less greenhouse gases than livestock, and are easy to harvest. Whether or not insects are used as the protein source of printed foods, the 3D printer could allow for better transportation and longevity of nutrients, which would help considerably in the fight to end world hunger.

– Jordan Kline

Source: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations,National Geographic,Time Magazine
Photo: Wikipedia