Rwanda: Tech trends to watch in 2016

Saturday December 26 2015

Gashora Girls' School students test an alcohol

Gashora Girls' School students test an alcohol detecting device that they invented. PHOTO | CYRIL NDEGEYA 

By Jean-Pierre Afadhali

As we usher in the New Year, ICT stakeholders’ expectations are high as upcoming technology projects and trends could play a key role in the sector that the country sees as an enabler in national economic development.

e-Healthcare system

Early in the year, a digital healthcare scheme will be implemented.

It is expected to reduce health specialists’ scarcity by using mobile phones to give consultations and other services that are traditionally accessed at health centres and clinics.

Babylon, a British telemedicine company, has been in talks with health authorities, telecom companies and other stakeholders to deploy a e-health system that will allow mobile phone subscribers to access services at clinics and hospitals by use of feature smartphones.

“With the power of the smartphone, in Africa we are developing the same system on a feature phone,” said Tracey McNeill, the chief clinical officer at Babylon.

“You will be able to text and ask a question or use USSD (a technology used to send text between a mobile phone and an application programme) and you get a healthcare answer to your question within a few minutes from a trained doctor or a nurse.”

The new system is expected to reduce queues of patients at health centres.

Fabrication lab

KLab, the local innovation and entrepreneurship hub, will extend its facility to include a fabrication lab, whereby innovators in hardware-related technologies such as the Internet of Things (IOT) will be used to work on their projects.

According to KLab, the initiative was a result of a plea from young innovators in hardware technologies and connected devices who did not have space for co-working like like-minded entrepreneurs and developers in software and mobile apps.

There are IOT projects that are still at prototype or other advanced levels but, apart from college or university laboratories, they do not have a space for collaboration and networking.

Alice Uwase, a budding IOT techpreneur, told Rwanda Today the lab will be useful for her and her peers interested in hardware technologies and IOT.

Tech start-ups fund

In June, the government will officially launch a $100 million (about Rwf74.5 billion) innovation fund for ICT start-ups.

The fund, whose announcement was delayed as the details were expected to be unveiled at the Transform Africa Summit, could be the biggest ever in the country.

The tech fund will be established by the Ministry of Youth Affairs and ICT (MYCIT) in partnership with the Rwanda Development Board (RDB). Of the targeted amount, the government will contribute 30 per cent while private sector will mobilise the balance through partners who will own shares in the fund.

Many budding entrepreneurs struggle to implement their innovative solutions due to lack of capital or seed money, and this is seen as the panacea to obstacles in Rwanda’s vision to be the region’s technology hub.

World’s drone port

The pilot project for the world’s drone port is expected to begin soon.

Three “drone-port” buildings are due for completion by 2020, enabling the drones to cover almost half of Rwanda’s countryside.

British architecture firm Foster + Partners, as well as the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne and its linked Afrotech company, hope to see drones with a three-metre (10-foot) wingspan able to carry deliveries weighing 10 kilogrammes (22 pounds).

Drones are also known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVS). They are aircrafts either controlled by “pilots” from the ground or, increasingly, autonomously following a pre-programmed mission.

According to the project proposal, Foster plans to set up “cargo drone routes capable of delivering urgent and precious supplies to remote areas on a massive scale.” Rwanda has been chosen as a test case.

Drones were previously mainly used by military services but are nowadays increasingly used in development projects such as agriculture.

Cheaper smartphones scheme

MYCIT and its partners are working on a scheme due to be unveiled soon that will give more people in Rwanda smartphones through which they can access the Internet.

This is one aspect of the issue, where prices of devices or connectivity are too high for local consumers. The governments want to stimulate demand by subsidising devices and thus increase Internet penetration.