Robots in Africa beginning with Uganda
I can’t help myself. I just have to tell you about Solomon King, the Ugandan entrepreneur who is passionate about design, business and technology and has leveraged those passions to create an engaging after-school activity for kids – building robots.
Fundi Bots, a robotics non-profit organization found by Solomon in 2011, uses “robotics training in African schools to create and inspire a new generation of problem solvers, innovators and change-makers“; and Fundi Bots is doing just that with the school programs they’ve designed which are focused on engaging students, as young as six, through activities such as:
- Speaker presentations which involve a short interactive talk and study of real-world problems solved through robotics,
- Hands-on robotics training,
- Weekly Robotics Club meetings and
- Holiday Camps.
Central to Fundi Bots is the belief that science and technology isn’t restricted to geniuses or the extremely wealthy. Rather, ordinary people can identify opportunities and create change in their community using materials native to that community. Also core to the organization is the belief in the power of social collaboration made possible by the internet which is able to give sight to the unseen and voice to the unheard.
Learning about Fundi Bots had me thinking about innovation, creative solutions, disruption and problem solving. Though there are solutions that work globally (think electricity, running water, cars, cell phones), I think that some of the most creative solutions can only be developed by people native to a community whether that native be a foreigner who now dwells within that community or a local born, bred and embedded within the community. This is because breakthrough solutions can often be identified by experiencing the struggles, hopes, pains and challenges of everyday life that is unique to that community. A great example is M-Pesa, a mobile payments service in Kenya that allows users to conveniently make and receive payments using the network of airtime resellers. This solution is great for the continent because most people have a phone (or two, three and four) while few have bank accounts, it works on basically any phone and now provides a way for the unbanked to bank (save, send and receive money).
I would love to see more solutions designed specifically for Africa. Solutions that don’t alter the unique qualities, traits and traditions that make us African but are able to fit and exist within our culture, quirks and customs. In other words, solutions that drive economic development, foster innovation, encourage technological advancement, enable us be better versions of ourselves while preserving our inherent “Africaness”.
This is the reason that I find Fundi Bots fascinating because it forces Ugandans to “look at their environment from a practical, solution-oriented perspective. By guiding students through the process of problem identification, brainstorming, collaboration, construction, programming, final deployment and system feedback, we show how the problems around them can be solved through a creative and technological approach and persistent analysis”.
Solutions that take advantage of existing building blocks within a society and are designed to fit seamlessly within that society are always successful because when you think about it, isn’t this the key to true and lasting innovation?
Need a creative challenge? Take a look at Africa and connect with me on twitter @hackingafrica.