By Jonathan Batty
Urbanization is a global trend but one with unique urgency in Africa with some cities expected to grow by as much as 85 percent in the next 15 years. As the pressure on city systems increases, IBM’s new Africa research lab is researching solutions which address interconnected urban issues such as public safety and human mobility.
According to government estimates, traffic costs Nairobi US $600 000 a day. In an effort to tackle this growing problem, IBM has partnered with Kenyan internet service provider AccessKenya, to develop a pilot solution to enable Nairobi commuters to use their mobile phones to get advice on driving routes through the city depending on estimates of traffic congestion.
Using deep analytics and specialized algorithms to interpret visual data received from CCTV cameras positioned around Nairobi, citizens can use their mobile phones to receive updates on road conditions and suggestions for alternative routes. With only 36 cameras currently installed around Nairobi, IBM researchers have augmented the available data using mathematical network analytics to predict traffic in parts of town where no data feeds are available.
Dubbed Twende Twende – meaning ‘Let’s Go’ in Swahili – the system works on basic phones via SMS-based query system and on smart phones via an app through which users can view a map of the city showing route options and potential traffic hotspots. IBM’s researchers are currently working to extend the capabilities of the solution to include data on public safety, weather conditions and road works to create a Nairobi-specific view of human mobility. IBM has launched a public trial of the service to Nairobi commuters and is available on the major mobile phone networks Safaricom and Airtel. Users in Nairobi can sign up for the service by dialing *384*3# on their Safaricom line, or by dialing *381# on mobile phones connected to the Airtel network.
IBM and His Excellency, the President of Kenya, Hon. Uhuru Kenyatta, recently opened the doors on the first commercial technology research facility in Africa. IBM’s 12th global research lab – supported by the Kenyan ICT Authority – and located at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa in Nairobi, will conduct applied and far-reaching exploratory research into the grand challenges of the African continent by delivering commercially-viable innovations that impact people’s lives.
The 2000m2 facility features one of Africa’s most powerful, cloud-enabled computing hubs giving IBM researchers the ability to analyse and draw insight from vast amounts of data in the search for solutions to Africa’s most pressing challenges such as energy, water, transportation, agriculture, healthcare, financial inclusion and public safety.
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