Mmegi Online :: BITRI learns from IT giants
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Last Updated
Thursday 20 September 2018, 12:14 pm.
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BITRI learns from IT giants

Botswana Institute For Technology and Innovation (BITRI) has engaged in a series of seminars to exchange project experiences as it seeks to contribute to the country’s socio-economic development through research.
By Maranyane Ngwanaamotho Wed 12 Nov 2014, 15:23 pm (GMT +2)
Mmegi Online :: BITRI learns from IT giants








BITRI held its second seminar yesterday where Dr Kamal Bhattacharya, the vice president and lab director of IBM Research Africa based in Nairobi, shared his own experiences.

Bhattacharya said that in Africa a different approach of doing business was necessary as social challenges were at the core of most of business failures.

He said that social challenges played out in the very same way as business challenges did.  It was therefore necessary that researchers created innovations that would address social challenges, but remained commercially viable.

He said that in Kenya, IBM Research had already started technologies that were geared towards addressing key issues. The research centre was established in Nairobi in 2012.

He said that they identified major issues in Nairobi and traffic congestion had been one of them.

To address road traffic congestion in Nairobi, IBM Research created cheap smart sensors that could read road quality and save the information that would later be used to address the identified problems. He said: “We asked ourselves what was the impact of road quality on traffic? How much productivity could be gained if roads were fixed? How much emissions would be reduced if roads were fixed? How would time spent on roads be reduced if roads were fixed?”

IBM therefore invented a sensor device that would study driver behaviour, take pictures that could be sent and be updated into the system to help locate areas that needed attention.

Water had also been identified as one problematic area.

Bhattacharya said that to address water issues, IBM Research intended on mapping millions of water points in Africa.

He said that in Africa water challenges were related mainly to not knowing where the water points were and what the water levels were. “We therefore asked ourselves if we could advise water authorities on required water distribution? Could we detect health challenges? Could we create resiliency paths during crisis?” he added.

Currently, he said, water services

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in Kenya were not resilient and were prone to weather challenges like extreme drought.

IBM Research had therefore invented low cost sensors that could be used to collect vital data that would help governments address water problems more accurately.

However, the sensor has been said to be a little costly for individuals having been brought down from US$180 to at least US$40.

On banking, Bhattacharya said that they had helped a bank in Nairobi to learn more about its clients and even increased the number of approved loans.

In another incident, IBM Research was able to identify 43 percent more defaulters than the bank did. This was done through studying consumer behaviour through their cellphone behaviour.

 “We studied the consumer behaviour by studying how often they recharged their phones, how often they phoned, whether they defaulted in paying for the phones and so forth.  All this information shows how likely the client is to pay back a bank loan,” he said.

However, there are challenges like issues of privacy, he noted.

On the health aspect, Bhattacharya said that since Africa was challenged by not having enough qualified health personnel, they looked at how they could assist staff that is in place do the best under the circumstances.

“We looked at how we could train less educated professionals with up to date contextual information? Could we improve re-certification rates across Africa? Could we teach basic diagnostic skills?” he said.

IBM Research was therefore developing a technology that could help detect diseases as nurses entered symptoms of the diseases.

They want to improve it to a system that would even help with the prescription of medicines.

Bhattacharya noted that most projects were still ongoing and were still far off.  A lot still had to be done, he said. However, he noted that they were hopeful that this would turn out to be a success given the challenges they were coming across.

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