Reasons why funding into African AI startups remains poor despite a global boom

Growth of AI in Africa

Even with low funding, activity in the sector like everywhere else in the world is slowly beginning to pick up. The creation of learning algorithms like deep learning, chatbots and neural networks, which allow the software to learn from experience and upgrade themselves, has made AI increasingly important.

These developments, in addition to new funding, are gradually opening the lid on the AI Sector.

Before now, there was funding here and there (for example, South Africa’s IoT.nxt raised $7.7 million in 2017) as well as the presence of several pioneering startups like SA’s BrandsEye and the Egyptian startup, Affectiva (2009). However, beyond these, there was no significant growth to signify the emergence of the sector.

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Vodafone expands IoT coverage to 98% of the UK

Vodafone’s expansion supports its ongoing investments in IoT platforms and services. This is to help the growing number of businesses implementing IoT technology to increase operational efficiency and grow new revenues.

Anne Sheehan, Business Director at Vodafone UK said concerning the expansion of its coverage: “NB-IoT is a part of our network that is often overlooked, but it is becoming increasingly important, bringing data from a growing variety of devices to power decision-making in more organisations.”

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Rugby goes digital for peak performance

Brtish Lions VS Springboks

The British and Lions rugby team is trialling a performance dashboard that uses Internet of Things (IoT) technology to revolutionise how player data is evaluated, which will enhance its performance on the field as it prepares to face the Springboks in a much-anticipated series of three tests starting this weekend.

A first-of-its kind performance dashboard, Vodafone PLAYER.Connect, collects data from players’ existing wearable devices and collates into one aggregated dashboard, in real-time.

“This a unique application using an IoT solution and is a world first in sport. Vodafone PLAYER.Connect makes player data easy to view and analyse, allowing coaches and coaching staff to make fully informed decisions, optimising player performance and improving welfare on and off the pitch. This includes 24/7 monitoring of players’ physical and mental wellbeing, so action can be taken to improve physical recovery and better prepare for the next match. It also means live adjustments can be made both in the game and during training. The application was created by Vodafone and supported with our technology,” says Shane Cooper, CEO of IoT.nxt.

Vodafone is the sponsor of the British and Irish Lions team and majority shareholder in IoT.nxt parent company Vodacom.

“This technology could go on to elevate sports performance across any number of sporting codes, not only rugby, and can be used for teams and individuals. Data collected via Vodafone PLAYER.Connect, which uses IoT.nxt’s technology, is presented in a single dashboard that combines short term ‘acute’ GPS, heart rate and impact data, and is delivered live, with additional ‘chronic’ data on off-field recovery, which is transferred before and after each session. This data helps provide a holistic view of the wellbeing of both the team and the individual athletes. The IoT.nxt technology is hardware agnostic, which makes it possible to extract data from the different devices players use,” Cooper says.

The platform solves several long-standing issues in sport performance analysis. At the moment, data is transmitted via Bluetooth from each individual’s wearable separately, after the event, and must be collated manually by an analyst. Across a whole squad, this means the full data set may not be available until two days later, and is difficult to analyse in context, placing significant limitations on how player data can be evaluated and the speed at which it is acted upon.

According to Paul Stridgeon, Lions Head of Strength & Conditioning, the Vodafone PLAYER.Connect platform is a step forward in performance monitoring. ‘Vodafone’s innovation is supporting our aim to achieve consistently high levels of performance. “The dashboard lets us maximise the output of our current monitoring and is helping us provide detailed analysis of all wellness, training, and match data throughout the 2021 Tour. We are already starting to see the benefits.”

Vodafone Consumer Director, Max Taylor, notes that Vodafone PLAYER.Connect is a perfect example of how a commitment to innovation can make a real difference – on the biggest stage, under the most pressure.

IoT.nxt and Vodafone started working on this solution in March this year, following an ideas exchange which started in late in 2020. The companies independently worked on possible advanced uses of technology in sport and through their collaboration, following extensive consultations with sport scientists, were able to utilise the key strengths of each of their specialist expertise to develop PLAYER.Connect.


Bigger than telecoms?

Telecoms, IoT, Technology

It may not have felt like it at the time, but given the shortage of big tech acquisitions in Africa in the two years since, the acquisition of local IoT startup IoT.nxt by Vodacom in 2019 was actually a big deal.

IoT.nxt is active across a broad spectrum of the IoT space, delivering solutions, products, and capabilities across 14 sectors of the market, from mining to industrial, buildings to healthcare, and transport to retail. Its unique tech stack bridges the gap between all protocols in the industrial ecosystem, creating a single integration point that allows customers to easily integrate their IT platforms with IoT devices.

The startup had been expanding in Europe and the United States after securing R100 million in funding in 2017, and Vodacom said its buyout was motivated by a desire to significantly accelerate its own IoT strategy.

“Despite the challenges of Covid-19 over the last year, the uptake in IoT services and solutions has been healthy, across most of the markets we targeted,” says Shane Cooper, acting CEO of IoT.nxt.

The company has seen growth all over the world, but Cooper says Africa is generally regarded as more receptive to new technologies. This is partly because African economies are largely unencumbered by legacy infrastructure.

“This allows for greater risk-taking in early adoption of new technology. We’ve found a refreshing willingness to engage in new IoT technologies, and what is even more encouraging for the future of the continent is the preparedness to co-create solutions with technology providers,” he says.

Full story: Brainstorm Mag


Panel Discussion: Why is uptake of IoT so low when it booms worldwide?

This and several other interesting points about the IoT are discussed in the June EngineerIT panel discussion where our editor, Hans van de Groenendaal, speaks with prominent industry experts. The panel members talk about technology, its benefits, security challenges, the important question of standards and if it should it be regulated. Forty minutes of riveting discussion.

For more visit: EngineerIT

IoT.nxt included in the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Conference

IoT.nxt is joining leading companies, business associations, academics, and governments from several countries for the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) Virtual Conference on the 4th Industrial Revolution this week.

The Conference will imagine how the ‘4th Industrial Revolution’ might impact the lives of current and future generations within and across the Commonwealth and importantly, how parliamentarians and parliaments will stay ahead of the curve. It will seek to encourage and advocate for parliaments to embrace innovation and change.

Celeste Mulder, Learning Officer at IoT.nxt, and Riaz Kharodia, Technical Specialist at IoT.nxt are presenting a showcase that will provide an example of the practical application and growing potential of the internet of things (IoT) and how connected devices can deliver a number of benefits across many sectors.

“IoT aims to positively impact both economic and sustainability goals by driving efficiencies and improving productivity while reducing the overall costs for businesses. IoT.nxt has deployed solutions across various sectors including smart buildings, telecommunications, manufacturing, and health care. We will elaborate on these at the conference and provide details of how companies and governments can implement IoT strategies by showcasing actual projects,” Kharodia says.

The CPA notes in the conference outline that technological advancements will inevitably provide viable solutions to current and future challenges, from ending global poverty, climate change, and meeting the Sustainable Development Goals, to preventing future global pandemics. “The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for those in power to pay closer attention to scientists, researchers, statisticians, and innovators.”

The event is presented over five days and includes speakers from Egypt, Canada, South Africa, the UK, and Uganda. The speaker list also includes speakers from global organizations and universities like the World Economic Forum (WEF), World Vision, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and Monash University.

The session “Showcase: The Internet of Things in Action” will be presented by Mulder and Kharodia at 17:00 (BST) on Friday 9 July 2021 and will be followed by a panel session: “Societal Benefits and Risks of the Internet of Things”.

The Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) connects, develops, promotes, and supports parliamentarians and their staff to identify benchmarks of good governance and the implementation of the enduring values of the Commonwealth. The CPA collaborates with parliaments and other organizations, including the intergovernmental community, to achieve its statement of purpose. It brings parliamentarians and parliamentary staff together to exchange ideas among themselves and with experts in various fields, to identify benchmarks of good practices and new policy options they can adopt or adapt in the governance of their societies.

Register HERE