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Africa is often seen as a follower when it comes to technology and innovation. But Africa’s best and brightest have contributed massive breakthroughs and inventions at the cutting edge of the modern world. This Africa Day, appreciate some great inventions you didn't know came from our home continent.
Invented by South African physicist and inventor Robert Ledley in 1975, the CAT Scan (or Computed Axial Tomography Scan) builds 3D X-ray images of the human body. The CAT Scan is one of the most powerful modern medical tools and creates almost photographic images of the human body. Today it is invaluable for doctors and is used to diagnose a range of illnesses and find cancerous tumours.
In November 1996, Vodacom introduced Vodago, the first prepaid mobile service that was able to deduct airtime from customers as they talked. It revolutionised the cellphone industry, allowing people who couldn't afford a contract, or were under 18, to get a cellphone. Today, the majority of people in developing countries have prepaid cellphones. Can you imagine a world without prepaid cellphones?
Cellphone mast trees
Cellphone masts are essential to delivering clear cellphone connection. Everyone can agree they're useful, but not everyone thinks they're beautiful. Enter the cellphone mast disguised as a tree. It was invented by two engineers commissioned by Vodacom to come up with a way of making cellphone masts a little less obvious. This proudly South African innovation has now been rolled out all over the world. You saw it here first, folks!
When Percy Tucker launched Computicket in 1971, it was the first computerised centralised ticketing system in the world. He saw his first computer in the US in 1968, and knew it was the solution to the problem he'd been thinking about for years: how to create a centralised way for theatre-goers to book their tickets. In 1976, Computicket moved over to use South Africa's first minicomputer - a ground-breaker once more.
Oil from coal
Scientists from Sasol pioneered a way to make synthetic oil from low-quality coal (something South Africa has an abundance of) in the 1950s. Although scientists already knew this could be done, it took Sasol to find a way to make oil from coal on an industrial scale. In a world with dwindling oil reserves, this technology continues to excite governments around the globe.
We’ve all had that moment where our phone’s battery dies and we’re nowhere near anywhere we can charge it. To make sure that he would be able to charge his phone on the go, young Kenyan inventor Anthony Mutua developed a pair of shoes that generates electricity from walking. You can then use it to charge your phone or store the charge in a battery for later use. Expect everyone to have some version of this device in their shoes in the next ten years.
Cameroon is home to more than 20 million people, but there are only about 50 cardiologists in the country, making getting access to specialist care for heart problems nearly impossible, especially in rural areas. The Cardiopad, the brainchild of Arthur Zang, is a tablet that takes a reading of a person’s heart data and sends the results to a cardiologist where it can be interpreted within 20 minutes. The devices are distributed free to clinics and hospitals and patients pay a subscription fee for their use.
Ubuntu operating system
Developed by Canonical, a company founded by South African entrepreneur and the first African in space, Mark Shuttleworth, Ubuntu is one of the most widely used Linux-based operating systems in the world. It is open source, meaning anyone can access the source code of the software and change it to suit their needs, and updates every six months.
Pneumonia is responsible for the deaths of half a million children younger than five years old in sub-Saharan African but it often gets misdiagnosed as malaria, which can be fatal. Ugandan inventor Brian Turyabagye wanted to make sure that pneumonia diagnoses were made correctly much more often so he developed the Mama-Ope, a biomedical jacket that measures body temperature, heart rate and lung conditions. It sends the data to a mobile phone app and makes getting the correct diagnosis three to four times faster.
These are just a few of the amazing innovations and technology to come out of Africa. What are your favourite African inventions?