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Heroes In The Sky

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At this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Rwanda featured prominently for its drone technology, especially for its delivery of blood supplies to its rural areas.

The small East African nation was praised for being the first country in the world to adopt performance-based regulation for drones, which includes policies for safety, innovation and approvals.

Most would imagine that a small emerging land locked economy would have far more pressing priorities than drone technology, an element of the fourth industrial revolution which is still in concept phase in most developed countries, but they would be wrong.

The country is using it as an opportunity to address age old struggles, such as preventable deaths like postpartum bleeding.

Regulation, however, is not Rwanda’s first global milestone with drone technology. In October 2016, the country was the first in the world to commercially launch and use drones to deliver medical supplies.

To understand this development, one has to travel to Muhanga, a small town in Rwanda’s Southern Province, which hosts the country’s ‘drone port’.

On a cloudy Thursday afternoon in January, a remotely-piloted buzzing drone flies low above Ruhango District Hospital, in Muhanga, drops a red package on the lawn and takes to the skies again.

The hospital’s patients are not surprised by the low-flying drone; they are accustomed to such occurrences. A nurse rushes out of the nearby consultation waiting area, picks up the package and makes his way back to the patients.

Earlier in the day, another drone made a similar drop at Kabgayi Hospital, about 30 minutes away. This is how Rwanda’s remote healthcare facilities receive blood supplies in the southern and western parts of the hilly country.

Previously, the delivery of blood supplies from the central National Centre for Blood Transfusion to remote parts of the country took hours, holding up resources and medical staff, and at times forcing them to spend a night in Kigali.

Prior to drones, it took ambulances four hours to transport blood supplies from Kigali to Kabgayi Hospital by road. The ambulance would need to make this trip two to four times a week.

Apart from the difficulties of the road trip, laboratory technicians had to abandon their facilities and patients to process orders of blood supplies. With the adoption of drone technology by the Rwandan government, through a public-private partnership, the process now takes about 30 minutes.

READ MORE: Mind Blown By Drone At 160km/h

The innovative initiative was launched in October 2016, following an agreement between the Rwandan government and Zipline, a robotics company in California.

The partnership was one-of-a-kind. Across the world, drones are associated with bombing and spying. In Rwanda, however, drones were a sight for sore eyes as they came with much-needed medical supplies.

To many people, the two partners were underdogs. Zipline was a start-up firm and was yet to commercially roll out the concept, while Rwanda was not renowned for being a global innovation hub.

Keller Rinaudo, the CEO and Co-Founder of Zipline, says they were driven to succeed because of the millions of lives lost across the world due to preventable causes, like excessive blood loss.

Zipline co-founders Keller Rinaudo (left) and Will Hetzler at the launch of the firm’s operations in Muhanga (Photo by Faustin Niyigena)

While most countries adopted a wait and see attitude, Rwanda was willing to step up.

Millions of women across the world die each year due to postpartum hemorrhaging (PPH). In fact, the United States has the highest rate of maternal death due to PPH in the industrialized world. It’s a major global problem. Rwanda was the first country in the world to step up and decide that they would tackle it with the most cutting-edge technology available,” says Rinaudo.

As the Rwandan government established regulatory framework to operate drones, Zipline gathered advice from everyone involved, including governmental departments, doctors, nurses, National Centre for Blood Transfusion officials, and laboratory technicians.

“The easy part was building the technology. The hard part was integrating with the national health system,” says Rinaudo.

As Zipline was building an ecosystem for drone technology, the state was looking at the safety and security concerns around the disruptive technology. This resulted in regulations such as seeking clearance from the Rwanda Civil Aviation Authority before taking off, registration of drones, and acquiring flying permits.

These regulations reduce the likelihood of drones being used for illegal activities or interfering with a plane’s flight path.

The hype around the innovative project attracted the attention of international corporations.

UPS, a global logistics firm, and Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI), a public-private global health partnership, sought to be involved.

UPS, with an interest in using drones for their own deliveries, supported the initial launch with a grant of $800,000. GAVI was using the project to see if they could use the model elsewhere and improve healthcare across the world.

With a staff of about 50 and a fleet of 15 drones, Zipline has since made over 2,000 deliveries with over a quarter of them saving lives. The company is now looking to double the number of its drones as well as adding more advanced drones to its fleet.

“Our base in Rwanda has operated with 15 planes. We’re replacing those aircraft with the next generation and will soon begin flying 30 drones from each base we operate,” says Rinaudo.

This is welcome news for Rwandans, like Esperanza Ugirambabazi, who needed a transfusion when giving birth to her son at Kabgayi Hospital. In about 30 minutes, this was made possible because of one of the drones.

Another young mother from the same district tells of her months-old son who had malaria and urgently needed a blood transfusion. He is alive today because of the drone delivery.

The success of the project has led to a second phase starting in the eastern part of Rwanda, as well as demand for the service in other African countries.

“We’re in the process of setting up a second base in Rwanda to serve the rest of the country, bringing all 11 million citizens within a reach of this lifesaving technology. We’ll be expanding across Africa and the world this year. Zipline is building an instant delivery service for the planet,” Rinaudo says confidently.

Tanzania, with a neighbor of Rwanda, has expressed demand for the services. In 2017, the country announced that it would launch drone delivery services to provide medical supplies in the first quarter of 2018.

The Tanzanian Ministry of Health ambitiously intends to make up to 2,000 deliveries a day to over 1,000 facilities across the country, targeting about 10 million people. The country has already established regulatory framework for the technology.

A drone ready to take off from Muhanga drone port in Rwanda’s Southern Province (Photo by Faustin Niyigena)

For Rwanda, the success of the partnership with Zipline is just the start.

Rwanda’s Minister of Information Technology and Communication Jean de Dieu Rurangirwa says that the country is creating an enabling environment for further deployment of drone technology.

Beyond regulation, the government has been mulling plans to build capacity among emerging techies to increase the number of players in the sector.

“Building on the success of Zipline’s blood delivery technology, we are working to nurture a drone industry. As we look to the future, we will continue to put in place the infrastructure and policy frameworks that accelerate the adoption of emerging technologies to transform people’s lives,” says Rurangirwa.

“We are also establishing capacity-building programs to invest in local talent and leverage public-private partnerships to lay the groundwork for the Fourth Industrial Revolution.”

READ MORE: Something To Drone About

Already, other sectors have been working around incorporating the technology in their line of work.

In Musanze District, in the Northern Province, a pilot test phase is underway to introduce drone technology for potato crop monitoring, involving around 20 farming cooperatives. This will monitor for pests and diseases, which could boost crop harvests.

There are also conversations about introducing drones in the famous Akagera National Park to combat poaching.

With the new regulations in place, small businesses and entrepreneurs are finding ways to make the most of the technology. Local photographers, for example, are in the process of acquiring drones so their services can include aerial photography.

Renowned British architect Norman Foster is another who has been quick to take advantage. His firm, Foster + Partners, has expressed interest in building the world’s first drone port in the country.

Rwanda’s approach and progress in drone technology is seen as a model for other countries in the region.

“The government of Rwanda’s leadership in co-designing agile policy frameworks around the use of drones could be a model for other countries that want to accelerate adoption of this game-changing technology,” says Murat Sonmez, Head of the Center for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, based in San Francisco.

Rwanda may be a small country, but it’s taking giant strides.

 

– By Collins Mwai

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5 Ways Tech Can Revolutionize Education

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Professor Sally Smith, Dean of School of Computing at Edinburgh Napier University, was in South Africa to share how tech can revolutionize education and what Africa can learn.


With the Fourth  Industrial Revolution gaining speed, the nature of work and economic activity is set to dramatically change. One woman is on a mission to prepare the education system for such changes.

Professor Sally Smith, the Dean of School of Computing at Edinburgh Napier University, traveled from Scotland to South Africa to share her know-how, as one of the speakers at the Future of the Education Summit in Johannesburg.

Hosted by Africa Business News, the summit brought together thought-leaders and professors from all over the world. Smith met FORBES AFRICA a day before the summit to speak about her experiences in the education industry for 26 years:

READ MORE | OPINION | Technology Is Useful, But Drones Alone Won’t Save Africa’s Elephants

1.What trends have you picked up in the sector over the years?

In terms of technology, it has been very fast-moving so the big challenge for universities is conducting research and translating that into useful programs for students when they graduate.

In terms of the kind of trends and developments, we have seen huge growth in areas such as creative computing. There have been developments around designing meaningful interactions with computers, and that’s no longer just [limited to] a desktop computer; that will be your mobile phone, it’ll be augmented reality systems, virtual reality systems and other recent trends like cyber security.

READ MORE |4 Ways To Develop Employment-Ready Graduates

With more of our lives being conducted online, there’s a need to make sure we secure our data security, our identity is secure and businesses as well need to protect themselves. Those have been really interesting ways in which I have seen a big change in recent years.

And the other thing that has changed is there has been a lot of growth in AI. Some of those kinds of machine learning tools are now being put to wider use than ever before by things like self-driving cars. So that’s an area of great interest now to our students and when they graduate to apply these algorithms.

2.What do you think are the challenges in this sector?

One of the things we’ve been disappointed with in much of the western world is how few women are interested in studying computer science and it has been fairly constant at sub-20% of our undergraduate program since I have been in academia. And we have really been unable to make any great inroads into changing that.

3.What differences have you picked up between education in Scotland and South Africa?

Making sure graduates have the right skills to go to work, and part of that is getting work experience and it’s a challenge for all of us to make the case for businesses to take on a student so they can take on relevant work experience before they graduate. Some of the challenges I have seen around are about trying to get those partnerships.

4.How do you see collaborations of universities around the world with the 4th Industrial Revolution?

Yes, I think there are fantastic ways we collaborate over research and a lot of the big funds now are only interested in collaborations where we can draw on the strengths of universities from different countries and I think that the same will be true about teaching.

READ MORE |Is This Technology the Answer to World Hunger?

At the moment, we are competing with each other but if we can put great programs together that draw on the strength of different universities, there’s a future for more collaborative work.

5.How can the private sector help upskill young people?

We’ve introduced a new way in which people can get degree level qualifications in the UK and degree level apprenticeships. Industry will employ someone and they attend university 20% of the time and work towards their degree while they are in work.

So that is a new way to make sure the degree is appropriate for employers and these programs are employer-led so employers are part of designing the program. The other project we have is a digital skills partnership which is where we try and get industry and lecturers to work more closely together on things like developing curriculum.

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Banks Are Promoting ‘Female’ Chatbots To Help Customers, Raising Concerns Of Stereotyping

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Meet Amy. And also Debbie, Inga, Mia, Erica, Eva and Cora.

These aren’t the members of a new, all-female rock group, but names that several large banks have been giving to their automated digital assistants.

So-called chatbots have become a useful cost-cutting tools for companies with large subscriber bases (think banks, insurance firms and mobile phone operators). As they replace human call-center workers, such bots will help save banks an estimated $7.3 billion in operational costs by 2023, Juniper Research predicts.

But the proliferation of bots with female names raises questions about whether they might also perpetuate gender stereotypes, particularly around the notion of women in the role of assistants. That criticism has already been levelled at Amazon’s digital assistant Alexa and Apple’s Siri.

Now a Forbes analysis of Europe’s 10 biggest banks ranked by assets shows that at least three have deployed chatbots with female names on their websites and apps. HSBC has a chatbot named Amy; Deutsche Bank’s Debbie helps market traders; ING of the Netherlands has Inga, a chatbot that will “respond with empathy” to customer problems such as losing a card.

ING’s other chatbot Marie, available to retail customers on Facebook Messenger, was given the name “because it conjures up an image of someone who is helpful and friendly,” Tim Daniels, a programme manager for ING was quoted as saying on the bank’s website. (ING has a male chatbot named Bill, aimed at dealing with corporate customers.)

Among the other lenders, Santander, Barclays and Societe Generale appear to have unnamed chatbot assistants. Credit Agricole has an internal chatbot with a male name: Hector.

Female chatbots abound in other regions and industries. Bank of America recently deployed a digital assistant called Erica, while Mia, the chatbot released by Australian digital bank UBank, was described by the company earlier this month as “empathetic,” “fun” and “a little bit cheeky.”

IPSoft, a New York-based software company that sells chatbot technology to banks like Sweden’s SEB as well as mobile network giant Vodafone, has its own white-label version of a customer-facing chatbot, named Amelia.

IPSoft’s CEO Chetan Dube denied that the chatbot’s name perpetuated stereotypes, when asked by Forbes during an interview in December, and said it instead highlights “the thought leadership that is represented in females.”

“She was the first female aviator that tried to go around the world,” Dube added, referring to the 1930’s aviator Amelia Earhart.

Forbes revealed earlier this month that Vodafone was measuring the success of its chatbots on how many staff could be replaced by the software. While that may be an uncomfortable metric, the more worrying consequence of chatbots, according to four industry experts questioned by Forbes, is the risk that they could reinforce certain stereotypes.

“Gender bias is an increasingly serious issue in chatbot design, especially for voice-based chatbots,” says John Taylor, CEO of action.ai, a British startup that makes chatbot software for banks and travel companies. “These assistants often perform tasks that many view as menial.”

Vitor Shereiber, a language specialist at the German language-learning app Babbel, says that focus-group testing might lead companies to assign a gender to a chatbot on the notion that it makes customer feel more comfortable.

But, he adds, bots could spread unrealistic expectations of how women should present themselves professionally, just as photoshopped pictures have done for women’s perceptions of their bodies.

Part of the challenge for companies is finding a balance between automating customer service without putting customers off. PwC recently described chatbots as being able to “massively enhance customer delight and loyalty” because of their “personal touch.”

Taylor suggests software designers should try creating more chatbots with male names and male voices.

On the sidelines of a technology conference in London on Wednesday, Seth Juarez, an artificial-intelligence engineer based in Redmond, Washington takes it a step further. He calls Siri up on is iPhone to ask the time, and a male voice responds.

“I make it a guy specifically because I find it morally reprehensible that all of the service-based bots are female, and all the intelligence based bots [like IBM’s Watson] are named after dudes.”

He added that artificial intelligence generally shouldn’t be anthropomorphised. Chatbots should be used to manage “cheap thoughts,” or “stuff that a human would do robotically” rather than on more complex issues. “I would leave those problems to humans.”

-Parmy Olson;Forbes Staff

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BMW And Daimler Pool Resources On Automated Driving Technology

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Daimler and BMW deepened their alliance on Thursday to share spiraling development costs for highly automated driving technologies, even as each carmaker pursues separate efforts to develop fully self-driving cars.


The enormous cost of designing and building computer-powered vehicles has already prompted Honda to pool its efforts with General Motors, while Volkswagen is pursuing talks with Ford about an alliance on autonomous cars.

BMW and Daimler deepened their alliance for similar reasons, said Michael Hafner, head of automated driving at Mercedes-Benz research and development said in a blog post which accompanied a joint press release by the companies on Thursday.

“We have learned that the development of these systems is a bit like climbing a mountain,” he said.

“Taking the first few meters from the base station to the summit seems easy. But the closer you come to the goal, the thinner the air around you becomes, the more strength is required for each further step, and the more complex become the challenges you have to resolve.”

READ MORE | Tesla CFO Leaves as Automaker Promises Profits and Cheaper Cars

It made sense to distribute the technological and financial challenges of automated driving, Hafner said, so BMW and Daimler will jointly develop technology to enable automated driving on highways.

“Initially, the focus will be on advancing the development of next-generation technologies for driver assistance systems, automated driving on highways and parking features,” the companies said in the statement.

“In addition, the two partners plan to discuss the possibility of extending their collaboration to cover higher levels of automation, both on highways and in urban areas.”

BMW and Daimler’s move comes as even deep pocketed technology companies struggle to gain traction in autonomous driving. Apple Inc said on Wednesday it planned to lay off 190 employees in its self-driving car program, Project Titan.

READ MORE |Apple Dismisses Over 200 Staff From Autonomous Vehicle Group

The market for advanced driver assistance systems and autonomous vehicles is expected to grow to $96 billion in 2025 and $290 billion in 2035 from about $3 billion in 2015, according to Goldman Sachs.

BMW and Daimler already cooperate in high-definition mapping with HERE and in the area of procurement, and earlier this month unveiled a joint ride-hailing, parking and electric car charging business.

They said on Thursday their new partnership will center on so-called level 3 and level 4 automated driving technologies, including cars that still require steering wheels and drivers.

READ MORE | Is Automation All Doom And Gloom?

Daimler will pursue a separate development alliance for level 5 robotaxis between its luxury brand Mercedes-Benz and supplier Robert Bosch. Level 5 cars require no driver.

BMW, for its part, continues its development alliance for robotaxis with Israeli autonomous vehicle tech company Mobileye and chip maker Intel, with the aim of putting autonomous cars on the road by 2021. -Reuters

-Edward Taylor

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