The transformational effect of technology has had the biggest effect in emerging regions such as Africa. While most people associate the imaging capabilities on their mobile phones with selfies, “image sensor technology has transformed medical treatments, science, personal communication and entertainment,” according to the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering judges.
A company named EyeNetra uses smartphones as a platform to capture the refractive power of the lenses in eyeglasses, to name one example. EyeNetra is planning to deploy its technology in Nigeria and has distributed units to be piloted in Gabon, Gambia, Kenya, Morocco, Rwanda, South Africa and Zimbabwe. African engineers are also making extensive use of mobile phones for disease diagnosis.
Similarly, these engineers are designing their own technologies specifically for local conditions. Arthur Zhang, a Cameroonian engineering student, was awarded the $37,000 Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation by the UK Royal Academy of Engineering in 2016 for the invention of the Cardiopad, a tablet that takes heart readings and sends them to a heart specialist using the Internet.
Gustav Praekelt from South Africa started an SMS programme to promote anti-retrovirals. The product, called txtAlert, has dramatically improved medical appointment adherence and created a free channel for patients to communicate with the hospital.
In agriculture, farmers are now taking diseased images of the leaves of their crops and sharing them with scientists around the world for identification and advice. The high equipment costs, complex imaging processing needs and requirement for specialised expertise that these types of solutions required in the past are no longer factors thanks to mobile phones.
Not only is technology putting new engineering capabilities in the hands of Africans, it is opportunities for people to access virtual educational facilities. Organisations such as the Khan Academy are now providing free education content to students and teachers across Africa at all grades in a variety of fields such math, science and engineering, computing, arts and humanities, and economics and finance.
These days, that mobile phone in everyone’s pocket is more than a communication device; it’s a door into a new engineering-driven African future.