5 awesome new South African inventions
Yesterday we spent a bit of time over at IDC’s offices in Sandton, where the funding body has been holding its annual Innovation Summit. It’s a three day long shindig with lots of talks and plenty of ideas, but our favourite part is the ‘Inventor’s Garage‘ competition. Here, aspiring inventors and coders get to show off their stuff and pitch passing investors for funds. They also get to compete for a prize pot worth R25 000 to the winner, and R15 000 for runners-up.
The winner will be announced later today, but ahead of that, here’s my personal favourites:
If software developer Pulego wasn’t working on CoSev, I would be. I think this is one of the single most important ideas in South Africa today. It’s a simple service which allows you to report service delivery problems from potholes in Sandton to water shortages in the Eastern Cape using a smartphone app or USSM, and then logs the report on a central server where it’s publicly viewable by all until it gets fixed. Similar ideas overseas have transformed local government services, because they force accountability and transparency onto erstwhile dark and bureaucratic corners of councils. Genius, and I hope it wins.
GoMetro is already the best smartphone app for commuters who want to get to work using public transport. But the team behind it aren’t satisfied with that. They’re planning to launch a new service based around it specifically for tourists, which combines GoMetro data for trains and buses with Foursquare’s APIs for entertainment and eateries. With Stations & Stops, the idea is that you’ll be able to step off the Gautrain and see instantly what there is to do around you, or find the nearest Chinese restaurant of reasonable repute (for example) and plan your journey there. To be fair, Stations and Stops was a lot more polished than most of the other prototypes on show, because it’s already a project being designed for Cape Town’s World Design Capital 2014 project.
The appropriately named Big Idea really is just that at the moment, because it needs a lot of help to get a prototype up and running. But it deserves to get it. Conceived by two university lecturers, The Big Idea is a system to allow small pharmacies to start dispensing anti-retroviral medications (ARVs) for AIDS/HIV patients. The problem at the moment is that drugs are doled out only from large, centralised organisations because of the need to track their distribution carefully and that protecting patient anonymity in small pharmacies is hard. What happens to paper prescriptions when they get handed over? The Big Idea is to cross-reference treatments and patient data in a central database, so that when a patient needs a new script they can SMS that computer and get a one-time password token they can take to the nearest pharmacy. The pharmacist reads the token, hands over the drugs it references and then the number is destroyed. Anonymous, but easy to tracxk and control, it’s a very clever Big Idea indeed.
This gets a mention because it was the only invention in the Inventor’s Garage that was actually built in a garage. enotifii is the end result of seven years of development from electronics retailer Goll. It’s a cheap phone, which will cost R700 when In stores, that adds a Passive Infra-red sensor (PIR) to the top of the handset – turning it into an instant intruder alarm. Put the phone down, walk away and if someone enters the room without permission it calls you and sends an SMS. A proper working protorype which is the same size as a regular phone has been designed by ZTE and is due for delivery soon.
When he was young, Nkosi Museko was frustrated by the fact that his school didn’t have a science lab. He reckons that the reason South Africa is second from the bottom of the class when it comes to STEM education is because kids are trying to learning physics and chemistry from books, and get no practical experience. Thousands of schools around the country lack even basic lab facilities, and can’t afford the R500 000 to build them. Enter the R25 000 mobile lab that Museko has designed. It comes complete with a sink, a safety burner, a white board and storage and loads of fire retardant, chemically resistant space for kids to experiment on.
Other ideas which we were intrigued by included a plan to electrify your driveway so dogs don’t try to run out of the gate and a virtual shoppping guide which will direct you around mega-mall like Menlyn using a sat-nav-like phone interface. I really liked Educan, a project for getting high quality teaching and self-help materials out to schools using internet tools too. There were some very sophisticated tools too, like the windmill at the top of this post which uses as dual blade system to capture more energy from the air than traditional designs.
And your bonus from the event? They’re not in the Inventor’s Garage, but these ‘Stratflex’ chairs from Wintec were also on display. They won the Design Indaba Innovation Award earlier in the year, and are basically plywood seats that bend and mould to your body. Very comfortable, surprisingly strong, truly beautiful and also not at all cheap.