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IBM Research – Africa: IBM’s Research Facility For Africa Opened In Nairobi, Kenya

by Felix Omondi

IBM Research – Africa: IBM’s Research Facility For Africa Opened In Nairobi, Kenya
IBM Research – Africa: IBM’s Research Facility For Africa Opened In Nairobi, KenyaIt is estimated that about 14% of the world’s population live in Africa, and that the African economy is one of the fastest growing economies in the world: estimated that over the next two decades to have an average growth rate of 7%. Considering all these facts, we can categorically state that Africa is indeed poised to become a major player in the world’s economy and industrialization arena.

This has made Africa get the due recognition from all stakeholders in the ICT, Commerce and Industrialization sector. Unlike previous years where Africa was seen as a target market for foreign products and aids, Africa is now poising to become a leading source and exporter of commercially viable innovations and industrial products.

This is what prompted IBM to establish its 12th global laboratory in Nairobi, Kenya. Making it the first technology research facility meant for commercial viable projects to be established in Africa. The facility conducts both applied and far-reaching invention/exploratory research activities to address various challenges unique to the African continent and those that can be applied to the rest of the world. The IBM Research – Africa has a mission of accomplishing the following:

  • Providing Solutions to Africa’s Big Challenges: The lab is developing cognitive computing technologies that provide solutions to challenges faced in agriculture, energy, transportation, public safety, water supply, financial markets, education and public health.
  • Bridging the Skills-Gap: A key part to research and innovation is creation of science and technology skills. To a large extent, there is a shortage of these skills as a result of a number of factors: lack of opportunity, exposure or interest. Thus hindering innovation and technology leadership in many industries in Africa. IBM Research – Africa is addressing this by having a pioneer resident scientist program tailored for schools in Kenya and the rest of Africa. The candidates in this program are from top-tier researchers and scientists from pre & post-doctoral, academia, industry or government backgrounds. They work side-by-side with the IBM researchers in this lab.
  • Platform for Digital Advertising for SMEs: IBM has presented an affordable platform for advertisement to cater to small and medium-sized businesses which can’t afford mainstream advertisement platforms. Kenya has more than 30 million mobile phone subscribers with a network coverage of 77% of the country’s geographical boundary. IBM is using mobile based applications to reach a big group of the population that have no access to financial and value added services. IBM in partnership with local firms like Kuza Biashara and Flashcast have developed the Matangazo advertisement platform: it uses GPS and cell phone technology to enable SMEs in Nairobi to advertise to a big number of public transport users basing on geo-targeted ads.
  • Traffic Congestion Reduction Through Mobile Phones: Nairobi is one of the African cities whose traffic is a nightmare. IBM in association with Access Kenya (an ISP) have developed a pilot program which enables the Nairobi commuters to use their cell phones to get suggestions on driving routes through the Nairobi roads based on estimated traffic congestions.

IBM Research – Africa has elicited a lot of excitement across Africa and it is forming innovative partnerships with universities, research organizations and businesses across Africa. The facility is headed by Dr. Osamuyimen (Uyi) Stewart as its Chief Scientist.

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