African countries taking giant steps in robotics

Africa is rapidly catching up with the Western world in the field of robotics. Robots are being created in the continent and programmed to help undertake difficult tasks and carry out complex actions automatically.

Last year, 40 African countries participated in the maiden FIRST Global international robotics competition for students in the United States where Benin and Liberia ranked in the top 12 among the 163 nations.

Their tasks were to build robots which will accomplish engineering tasks as a global society to solve water crisis.

Outside Africa, robots are being equipped with Artificial Intelligence technology that allows them to act and speak like humans as well as make facial expressions. An example is the humanoid robot Sophia which was developed by American company Hanson Robotics.

Sophia has a porcelain skin with other features including a slender nose, high cheekbones, an intriguing smile, and deeply expressive eyes that seem to change colour with the light.

The robot has been interviewed around the world and featured on several TV shows and at major conferences including the United Nations General Assembly. She was recently offered Saudi citizenship, making her the first robot to be granted citizenship of any country.

Concerns have been raised in Africa about robots taking over jobs of young people. The United Nations revealed in 2016 that robots will take away two-thirds of jobs in developing countries.

The United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed also raised concerns last year saying: “The influence of technology on our society should be determined by actions of humans and not by machines. If technological progress is not managed well, it risks exacerbating existing inequalities.”

Here are African countries that have produced, and are significantly utilizing robots to solve local problems.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo

Eight-foot tall, solar-powered robots were mounted in the capital Kinshasa to direct traffic. The robots took the place of human traffic wardens and they direct both vehicles and pedestrians every day and in all weather conditions.

Tanzania

A high school student built a robot that can walk, turn its head, speak and perform other functions with the help of a remote control. Gracious Ephraim built the robot last year using local materials including aluminium box, wires, tin containers, pieces of metal and a memory chip for the brain. The robot is powered by solar energy and cost the science student 200,000 Tanzanian Shillings ($89) to put it together in 12 months.

Uganda
Drones with sensors are used in farms to detect stress in plants, ten days before humans can.

South Africa
20-year-old Mpho Makutu picks scrap metal, wires and card boxes from Johannesburg’s dump sites to build remote-controlled cars and battery-powered robots and cranes. He displays his inventions in the streets of Soweto where tourists pay to see how they work.

His most recent invention is a red battery-powered robot that grabs objects and moves them around at the touch of seven different wire levers. It took him two weeks to build the robot from cardboard boxes‚ wires and scrap metal he picked from dump sites.

Botswana
Robots are used to mine diamonds at depths that are unsafe for humans.

Liberia
Liberia took full advantage of the 5×5 foot robot, TRU-D, in the wake of the 2014 Ebola crisis. TRU-D disinfected rooms where Ebola patients were treated.

This article by Ismail Akwei was first published on face2faceafrica.com

Published by Ismail Akwei

Ismail Akwei is an international journalist, digital media and communications professional, editor, writer, arts, culture and tourism advocate, human rights activist, pan-Africanist, tech enthusiast and history buff. He has worked with multinational media companies across Africa and has over a decade’s experience in journalism.

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