The tech industry saw some amazing innovations and solutions that solved basic human problems amidst the coronavirus pandemic.
Most often, the personalities behind the inventions are not given due recognition as many are only interested in how they can benefit from the tech solution or app.
In the course of the year, Face2Face Africa provided extensive coverage of some of the personalities and their inventions in the fields of finance, healthcare, technology, food, transportation, among others.
Danny Manu, a Ghanaian-British man, developed earbuds that auto-translate other languages. According to Keepthefaith, the earbuds can live translate over 40 languages. The product, called Click, is said to be “the world’s first truly wireless earphones” with live voice translation supporting 40 languages.
The wireless Bluetooth headset works by pairing to a smartphone. The earbuds then automatically detect the language being spoken and provide a spoken translation within a sentence or two. Click does not require internet like similar inventions.
The device, which has been on the rise since its invention under the Mymanu brand, has won customers across Europe, U.S and Asia.
David Gathu and Moses Kinyua
Kenyan inventors David Gathu and Moses Kinyua created what is said to be the world’s first bio-robotic arm operated by brain signals. The invention, which is controlled by brain signals, has been billed as a game-changer in the lives of disabled people in Kenya.
The invention differs from most prosthetic technology which is powered by a person’s muscles. The arm works by converting brain signals into an electric current by a “NeuroNode” biopotential headset receiver. NeuroNode biopotential was originally invented to help people suffering from paralysis and speech loss.
The electric current is then driven into the robot’s circuitry, which gives the arm its mobility, according to Euro News. The arm has several component materials including recycled wood and moves vertically and horizontally. This technology makes it possible for disabled people to drive, operate a device like a computer or a phone, switch on or off lights by just thinking.
Abake Adenle is a Nigerian-American entrepreneur and the developer of voice recognition and speech synthesis software for African languages. At the time she founded her startup, there was no known player in the voice recognition and speech synthesis software industry that focused on African languages.
Growing up, Adenle wanted to be a university professor but she started her career in the field of finance, working at Morgan Stanley as a quantitative strategist for eight years. While at Morgan Stanley, Adenle developed an app for learning the Yuroba language called Speak Yoruba App. According to her, she was inspired to develop the app after seeing her niece and nephew use a mobile application to learn how to speak English.
“And it ended up doing well in the app store,” she said. “I received lots of requests from people asking me to make a version of the app for the African language that they spoke, which was nice and was something I thought I could go into. But I had a job where I was working from 8 am to 11 pm, and it wasn’t realistic to take on at that time.”
Eventually, she quit her job in finance after eight years to focus on her voice recognition app. According to her, the move was motivated by her desire to own her time and enjoy her intellectual freedom.
Youmna Mouhamad launched an innovative new comb for afro hair inspired by a girl she met while working as a nanny to support her studies. She wants to use her story to inspire other young Black women into engineering. She got the idea to develop her comb named Nyfasi Deluxe Detangler when she was doing her Ph.D. in Physics. The comb provides an easier way of conditioning natural afro hair.
Mouhamad said she got interested in engineering because she always had the desire to work on things that she can touch with her hands. She also loved the process of taking an idea and creating something out of it.
After developing the prototype of her comb, she assembled women in a focus group to test it. She got applause for her invention from the participants of the study who loved how easy it was for them to use the comb on their afro hair.
Ken Sutton is the co-founder of Yobe, a voice technology company that was inspired by an autistic child. Sutton, who prefers to call himself an “unconventional” tech founder, has no background in technology but in finance.
In an interview with Shoppe Black, he said founding Yobe started “from a sequence of events.” He recalled working in a studio with his friend, James, on frequency manipulation. His friend’s son is autistic and had a challenge listening to music inside a car, something his friend, who is an engineer, had a problem with.
“And so what it came down to was how his autistic brains perceive frequencies which made it difficult and uncomfortable for him to listen to echoes and reverberations that you would have in a close environment like a car,” he said.
Yobe is purpose-built for live crowds and noisy environments to identify and decode human voices. “Modeled on human hearing, Yobe’s signal processing techniques substantially increase SNRs (signal-to-noise ratio) in noisy environments which enables the ability to decipher emotion, intent, mood, and other biological markers for an added layer of meaning,” Yobe says on its website.
Dana Mroueh is an Ivorian entrepreneur who is into the production of artisanal chocolate called MonChoco. The chocolatier uses Ivorian cocoa beans to make her special raw chocolate product.
Mroueh sources her beans directly from farmers and then processes them by drying the beans on top of her factory roof in Abidjan. The beans are then taken to the factory where a grinding bike sits. The carefully sorted cocoa beans are then poured into a funnel and transformed into a paste by a grinder activated through pedaling.
“The bicycle grinder is an opportunity for us to practice our eco-friendly philosophy. We really want to have a minimal impact on the environment by using minimal electricity, and combine it with a short work out which also makes it a playful process,” Mroueh told Reuters.
MonChoco is praised for its unique flavor, and according to Mroueh, unique flavors lie in the fact that the beans are not roasted and have not added additives, which highlights the authentic taste of the raw bean.
Onyeka Akumah has taken the gamble to revolutionize the mass transportation sector in Nigeria and West Africa. He has developed a bus-hailing app called Plentywaka that functions like Uber to connect commuters to mass transportation buses in Nigeria.
He got the idea to develop an Uber for buses when he boarded a bus in Lagos and got a panic attack. According to him, the bus was in very poor condition, and he wondered how people patronize such buses to work.
He launched the Uber for buses with 18 buses and only six passengers. Akumah said when he started, many people did not understand what he was doing.
“Within six months, we got to a point where we had moved about 100,000 people and we were very excited about it and then Covid hit and everyone had to go home and we were just staring at our buses and had no revenue coming in,” he recalled.
Emmanuel Alieu Mansaray
Emmanuel Alieu Mansaray, a self-taught Sierra Leonean inventor and engineer, built a solar-powered car made from trash and scraps. The 24-year-old’s invention can reach speeds of 15km per hour. Mansaray’s aim is to address goal 7 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, which talks about clean energy.
Mansaray is a student of the Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone, pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Geology. He began developing his innovation skills in 2018 when he built the first locally made solar-powered tricycle in Sierra Leone.
Now, his ‘Imagination Car’, which is designed using the country’s signature colors of green, white and blue, has made him a star in his community and beyond. The eco-friendly car does not use any fossil fuel to power it, he said. Its body is built with bamboo. The car has a large solar panel at the top of it, which powers the engine and also acts as its canopy. What’s more, the car comes with a self-made engine with three gears attached to it for both back and front movement.
There are two doors and two mirrors attached to the car’s left and right flanks. People are also amazed at its brake system, its left and right traffic light, as well as its four headlights and horn. Most importantly, the solar-powered car is pollution-free. Mansaray explained that it operates by converting sunlight into electrical energy using photovoltaic cells. Thus, it does not produce harmful or hazardous emissions, he said.
Olugbenga Agboola is the co-founder and CEO of San Francisco and Lagos-based Flutterwave, a fintech company that has become a $1 billion startup in five years. Before becoming the CEO in 2018, Agboola was the Chief Technology Officer. Iyinoluwa Samuel Aboyeji was then the CEO but stepped down in 2018.
Flutterwave is one of about four or six unicorns ($1 billion-plus startups) in Africa. According to Agboola, he started the company to make it easy for Africans to make or receive international payments.
Today, Flutterwave supports international payments for over 34 countries and processes payments across 150 currencies. Also, the fintech firm has over 300,000 businesses using their solutions to receive money from customers.
In 2020 alone, the company processed more than 80 million transactions, worth $7.5 billion, cementing itself as Africa’s foremost cash payment solution.
Mopewa Ogundipe was recently hired to develop the Android version of Clubhouse. Clubhouse allows users to gather in audio-only virtual rooms to discuss various topics, from politics to social issues to popular culture. Ogundipe, who describes herself as an “Android developer since the Gingerbread days,” joined Clubhouse after working with firms including an online media publishing company, Medium. She worked on the Medium android app and backend systems to support it.
She also worked as a Software Engineer at Khan Academy, United States, before joining Medium. And also worked at Instagram as a Software Engineer Intern. The Nigerian is a graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, Pennsylvania, where she obtained her Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science and Robotics.