Over the last year I have had the great fortune of mind melding with various people with incredible ideas. As some of you may know, I am involved in Ushahidi, an open source platform for data collection, visualization and interactive mapping. Ushahidi has gotten its notoriety in the crowdsourcing sphere, with growing adoption around the world. From Kenya to Russia, Poland, Mexico, South Africa, Italy and countless other countries; it is something I continue to marvel at while enjoying the ride of learning; with a global community of hackers from Ghana, Malawi, Netherlands, US, Kenya, Poland etc, I marvel even more.
The idea behind the platform is simple. That anyone, given a channel to say ‘This is what I see’ and send that information via SMS, email, web and twitter. With Ushahidi’s plethora of mobile apps, reporting via smartphones can also be done quite seamlessly. With the Android app SMSsync, you can be your own SMS gateway. What this means is you can run a hub from your Android phone, such that any sms’s sent to you get sync’ed with a call back URL which can be an Ushahidi deployment or another server based application. So with the channels of data collection sorted, you of course have the processing capability that is available on the cloud (Think SwiftRiver), and the visualization component which can help convey the data in a compelling way.Maps. Things are getting even more compelling with plugins such as Cloudmade (Think preety, preety maps), and bookmarklets that can overlay Ushahidi data with other data available in the open layers format. Point is, the tools to create a visual from the collected data is also sorted. Beautifully too.
Now to the Internet of things. My first encounter with this idea was from listening to Elder of the Internet Vint Cerf at Lift09. He mentioned how you can have sensors in your cellar that make sure the temperature of the wine stays constant, and does some automatic reporting via internet to you if there is an anomaly. Those sensors have IP addresses and are nodes in your network. I did not think of it in terms of ‘Internet of Things’ at the time, but looking back now, that is exactly what he was describing. Other sensors abound, from the innovative Enphase inverter for giving you information on your energy generation from solar panels to the trash tracking devices used in the MIT Senseable City lab projects. Another great way to grasp this concept is to check out the twitter account of London’s Tower Bridge, and read this account of how it was set to tweet.
Now take these two ideas and meld them in different ways. Allow me to use the word holistic. As in holistic near ‘real time sense-making‘, incorporating the internet of things, with crowdsourced data delivered through channels that encourage participation. There is an opportunity to see things dynamically and not just do after-the-fact post mortem. This could work for flash point events like the Haiti earthquake (taking data form Geiger counters etc + crowdsourced data like that available on the haiti deployment run by Noula.ht. It could also work for longer term events such as the BP Oil spill in Louisiana.
…the closer to real-time one can get the right answer and respond, the better. And milliseconds matter.
-Jeff Jonas on a smarter planet
- Data from things/sensors can trigger a report online if a tracked value reaches a certain threshold or meets certain criteria. For example, the Copenhagen Wheel by MIT Senseable lab. The wheel contains sensors that monitor carbon monoxide levels in the air,NOx/Nitrogen Oxides, a measure of air pollution, noise, ambient temperature and relative humidity. The data is accessible on a mobile phone app and can be shared with friends or even the city.
- Data from people filling out a form, sending an email, SMS or twitter message. This can be qualitative in nature, and use of the Ushahidi platform provides a way for citizens to participate in data gathering, plus sign up for alerts that are relevant to their concerns. An example that can be useful to check out is the Where Are The Cuts map from The Open Knowledge Foundation in the UK.
Combining the various sources of data (Open layers can be used to distinguish various types of data/color coding points of data can help to differentiate between sensor data and crowdsourced data). A dynamic map of information can then emerge that is not so much a snapshot, but an animation.
Cue: Augmented Reality (AR).
The Mobile Individual Measurements of Air Quality (MIMAQ) project out of Netherlands gives a perfect example of combining sensors, air pollution information and AR.
This wired piece on ‘When augmented reality hits the Internet of Things’ is also instructive and interesting.
Change is at times compelled by insight. The insight from using technologies/ideas outlined above could lead to behaviour change if we can make data relevant to an individual. Relevant to the decisions they have to make based on the information they have at the time. For an idea that mixes some of the above ideas and adds relevance, have a look at Mapnificent.
[Mapnificent] …allows you to set a point in your chosen city and a map will display the entire area over which you could travel by public transit in a given amount of time. It also allows you to see an area that is both 15 minutes away from yourself and 15 minutes away from a friend by transit, and since it is integrated with Google Maps, allows you to search destinations within that specified area.
The recent deployment of the Ushahidi platform by The South China Morning Post is one to watch. “CitizenMap starts with environmental issues, focusing on the destruction of natural beauty in Hong Kong – from illegal dumping to unauthorized development, from vegetation removal to columbarium construction.”
The reason why this could be interesting, is that it has the potential to give journalists leads that they can follow up on and gather more facts on issues such as toxic waste dumping. It is harnessing the power of the people to help make Hong Kong a better place. This feeds into the idea of changing behaviour. If individuals/corporations realize that the public is watching and able to report incidents, would they still engage in such activities?
Say we had near-real time crowdsourced data from the public, and data from sensors all in the public domain; what could we do? What kind of projects could we come up with?
During TEDxNairobi, Erik Kigada an architect with Planning Systems shocked many of us in the audience by revealing something we did not know about. The city of Nairobi does not have a coherent master plan. The city is using 1999 plans to build in 2010. This presents myriad problems for businesses and individuals who need to plan. His point was made stark by the road construction happening while the event was going on. If a master plan existed showing that a bypass was planned, the architect who built the auditorium would not have put it near the road. There is an opportunity for emerging economies, rapidly growing cities to become smart cities. They can do this by taking a cue from the Senseable city projects. Current, near-real time data can be gathered with the help of the crowd, to provide pertinent information to urban planners, academics and leaders. The hope here is that they can make well informed decisions that take into account the flowing reality of the city.
“Insight from data can be used to leapfrog.” -Assaf Biderman
There is also the opportunity for education and academia to use participatory systems to link science, data and student participation. Relating the exploration of built/urban environment to the scientific method of observation, data collection and analysis.
I am interested in your ideas on how we can use these technologies and ideas to address the many challenges facing our world in Health, Education and Environment. I am particularly interested in figuring out a joint project in Kenya, please leave a comment or contact me to explore and collaborate.
Events to check out if you are interested in this topic:
-The Urban Internet of Things Conference Tokyo Nov 29th – Dec 01
- Vlad Trifa’s Lift@home workshop ‘Hack your city – Urban IOT after party’ Nov 29th Tokyo
- Open Data Hack Day Dec 4th all over the world
- Workshop on Applications of Wireless Sensor Networks for Environmental Monitoring in Developing Countries to be followed by Conference on Wireless Sensors Technologies for Environmental Monitoring 28th February – 11th March 2011 Trieste, Italy.
- MIT Senseable City site and twitter @SenseableCity
- Peter Hirshberg’s blog
- Free M-science book Sensing, Computing and Dissemination
- UCLA Center for Embedded Network Sensing CENS
- JP De Vooght blog and twitter @jdevoo. This post titled ‘Arduino Meets Ushahidi’ is particularly fun.
- The Economist special report on smart systems
- Jeff Jonas blog IBM
David Kobia rocks! Combining two things that many of us really like… WordPress + Ushahidi
Testing his new plugin.
Mobisoko is Africa’s mobile app marketplace. It is the place for you to find location and language relevant applications for mobiles, especially geared to the African market.
In June of 2009 I had the good fortune of attending Nairobi University Techfest. It was an event that showcased the final year projects done by University students. It became clear to me and after discussions with Mulumba and Jessica, that mobile developers in Kenya have the ideas and skills to solve the myriad technology problems we have in Africa. They are creating applications that provide unique, localized utility for Africans.
An example of this is the text to speech application that Simon Ndunda developed. It allows Kikamba (one of the tribes in Kenya) speakers to hear audio versions of SMS in the proper pronunciation. This is particularly useful for blind people, and the library of sounds can later be used for GPS navigation instructions.
video from last year’s techfest, featuring Simon’s app
Simon and other mobile developers have inspired Mobisoko to be a repository for their ideas and a marketplace for the applications they bring to you. We look forward to providing more local apps for Africa and we invite you to join us by:
- Downloading the applications, providing feedback for the developers on the product page. This will help them improve their apps.
- Mobile developers simply email info at Mobisoko dot com with your application, a description and your contact information. We shall test, review and make it available for download on the site.
**crossposted on the Mobisoko blog. For those in Kenya, come by the ihub 6pm-7:30pm for Mobile Monday, I will be doing a brief presentation about Mobisoko.
1. Get a new sim card. Do not cut it just yet.
2. Turn SIM PIN Request off (On Nokia E71 go to Settings, Phone, Security, Phone & Sim Card, PIN Request set to off)
3. Add credit *141 voucher number #
4. Purchase a data bundle by texting the word ‘Activate’ to the appropriate short code. i.e
5. Text 450 to get the balance of the data bundle
6. Once you’ve added credit to the sim card, you are now ready to cut the regular SIM into a microSIM.
Instructions are on this link. You just need a pair of scissors and an exacto knife to trace out the microsim shape on the regular sim.
At this stage, you can also create a regular sim template using the same instructions on Hijinks, as you will likely need it later.
7. Fit the microsim into the ipad tray, you might need to gently hammer the Microsim into the little ipad tray it so it lays flat. Insert the tray into the ipad slot.
8. You can put the new MicroSIM into the iPad and voila’! you are connected to Safaricom 3G.
The tricky part now is how to recharge your account when you run out of credit. The fastest way is to MPESA your MicroSIM number, though that would mean you would be using the more expensive 8 kes per MB instead of the cheaper rates afforded by bundling. At this point, you can remove the MicroSim, fit it into a template created step 6, put into a regular phone, add credit and text ‘activate’ for the appropriate short code and for the bundle you prefer.
On the iphone, you can use the SIM applications to check your MPESA and Safaricom credit balance, that is not currently possible on the ipad. You can view and even send the request for balances, but there isn’t a mechanism to display the response from Safaricom. I am hoping someone can come up with a solution for this, if you know how, please comment or get in touch.
Update with info from @69mb:
Re: Topping up, its possible from a postpaid line to topup a prepaid line with a data bundle from the *200# menu. So if youâ€™ve got a postpaid line / a friend with one you can mpesa their bill for the bundle. Sucks this isnâ€™t also on the *100#
I’ve kinda been traipsing about, by the time I upload pics, blog/tweet, its time to catch another flight.
Below are several slideshows from here, there and TED 2010…
Berlin – Transmediale Festival
Feb 2nd – 7th
TED Feb 10th 2010
TED Feb 11th 2010
TED Feb 12th
TED Feb 13th – Last day with the Fellows…
PS: I took too many pics, and therein lies the problem, can’t really sort through all of them. Whenever possible, I took a pic of the speaker’s name then the images from the talk.
Written for the Transmediale festival in Berlin – Feb 2nd -7th 2010
The transmediale festival is examinining futurity now what the ‘future’ as a conditional and creative enterprise can be. At its heart lays the intricate need to counter political and economic turmoil with visionary futures. With FUTURITY NOW! transmediale.10 explores what roles internet evolution, global network practice, open source methodologies, sustainable design and mobile technology play in forming new cultural, ideological and political templates.
What follows is my perspective on where the future is headed, particularly as it regards thinking of futurism, technology and Africa.
Before I get to the five ideas that shape my perspective on futurity in Africa, I found myself asking, where are the African futurists? In the discourse of futurist manifestos, there is a dearth of the African perspective. Perhaps its a hold over from the old and tired meme of colonization, post-colonial construct that characterized the 20th century.
Or perhaps its because African futurists are few and far between. This remains an open question for many Afrophiles I encounter.
Let me begin with a big disclaimer. When I speak of Africa, it is a major generalization, though in the technical space many of the trends we see appear to be similar in several countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. Kindly allow me to generalize by using the term Africa to refer to the grouping of countries comprising, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, South Africa, Malawi, Zambia, Nigeria and Ghana. Many examples that i will refer to will be from East Africa, particularly Kenya.
There are five points i’d like to make.
1. There is a new meme emerging. As we begin 2010 in earnest, Africa is growing, and some might even say it is experiencing a renaissance of sorts. The future of the web is already here, and it is in Africa.
The growth of mobile phone tech has been explosive. 550% in the last 5 years. The word leapfrogging doesn’t even begin to describe the transformative effect mobiles have had in Africa. Its been revolutionary. It has led to innovations that have applications around the world. Case in point, MPESA (#MPESAishowdoit) a service that started with 52,000 subscribers in April of 2007, it currently has 8.5 million users and processes nearly 10 percent of Kenyaâ€™s GDP in transactions that average less than $20. Since its launch, the cumulative amount of money transferred from person to person is 300 Billion kes. When it comes mobile money, the third world is first That this innovation took hold in Kenya first before its adoption in other parts of the world like Afghanistan is something that no futurists could have foreseen.
Many new users of the internet will experience the web through their mobile phones. The development of user interfaces and key research is happening in Africa, with Nokia and IBM setting up research centres on the continent, and home grown innovation hubs such as ihub present exciting possibilities.
My colleague and friend Erik Hersman wrote that if it works in Africa, it works everywhere, from current events in the African tech space, we could go further and posit that If its awesome in Africa, its awesome everywhere.
2. The promise of technology for social change. With the influence of writers like Dambisa Moyo challenging previously held beliefs about aid, and pushing the idea of microfinance aided by technology in the form of projects like Kiva, we see the potential of technology being used for real social change. Making Africans less poor by investing in their enterpreneurial drive as opposed to financing dictator’s lavish lifestyles. There are myriad organizations incorporating mobile tech in provision of services. Its not just mobile, just as Twitter aims to be the pulse of the planet when it reaches a billion years; We are seeing use of crowdsourcing software Ushahidi as an interesting indicator of what can happen when information is crowdsourced and visualized. Tighter coupling of the SMS realm, mobile and the cloud are exciting prospects in Africa.
3. Note: The knowledge economy is not an enclave of the west. The myths about the developing world being left behind have already been debunked by noted statisticians like Hans Rosling. It is a fact that technology is transforming Africa, and it has an important role to play in increasing GDP. As the tech space grows and matures, there will be more localized applications to help increase efficiency and overcome bottlenecks. There is alot of room for growth here, we will see the continued growth of Mixit (SA stats and Africa growth for this innovative application -stats) Pesa Pal, OboPay, Black Star Lines and other companies betting on the mobile and tech growth opportunities in Africa. Students in Africa will have to rise up to the occasion to provide these localized applications. We are clearly not there yet, but i would wager that the brilliant minds in African universities will step into the Global economy and fill an important gap.
4. I grew up in a country where authoritarianism/post cold war stupor? was the other of the day (80′s and early 90′s). There was a sense of oppression, even artistically there wasn’t as much self expression as we’ve seen in the late 90′s and early 2000′s (noughties). There was the age of conversation – with forums and IRC. This gave way to the age of participation, with blogs twitter and social networking, characterised with co-creation and well, the mashup culture (and LOLcats) For African’s online this trajectory has closely mirrored the global phenomenon of social networks, though it was only accessible to the well heeled or diaspora Africans. The problem was basically a lack of large pipes connecting Africa to the world. This is changing. With the arrival of Seacom cable in September 2009, streaming a you tube video is no longer an exercise in futility. What this means is we are likely to see the age of participation and co-creation as more new users get online. Twitter-like services are gaining popularity with the growth of Naija Pulse (uses Laconica) and aggregation services like Afrigator just to name a few. Take for instance KBC – Kenya Broadcasting service – When I was growing up it was the only tv station. Now they have a twitter account for their breakfast show and for some strange reason asked me a trivia question without giving me a prize.Its a new time. You’ve got foursquare, we’ve got smoke signals – Just kidding, there is growing use of google latitude. Hipster Kenyans with smart-phones were turning on their google latitude to find out where their friends are and where the party is during the holidays. One guy and his dad use google latitude to pinpoint their locations and triangulate the nearest bar to meet up for after work drinks. With the introduction of low cost GPS enabled phones in the African market, we are going to see some interesting uses of this technology and innovations that we cant completely foresee.
So what else is in store. I am going to harken to Clive Thompson’s observation about twitter, that it gives the user some sort of prio-perception/ social sixth sense. I do have to mention too that Clive Thompson also wrote about the point in social networks where the conversation stops because the social network gets too big.
5. The internet has enabled the diaspora to keep in contact with their countries, and with this comes the cultural exchange that’s been part of globalization in general. Project Diaspora is a great example of this. Teddy Ruge and his team are using the internet to support a community whose only source of income is from back breaking work at a stone quarry. The diaspora is part of the solution to poverty in Africa, and the internet is the medium.
There are transnational activists (some of them are my friends) participants in what Ethan Zuckerman calls the polyglot internet,
and whom David Sasaki calls ‘Believers without Borders’. They are participants in the mashup culture and could even be called cultural mashups if there was such a term. They may have been born in Africa, but; are global citizens by identity.
This cultural mashup sees an exciting time revealing itself through the retelling of old stories with technology, breathing a fresh perspective into African identity and self expression online. We already see this with the emergence of African Digital Arts, Animations made in Kenya (Just A Band) Senegal (Tree Lion), and the incredible creativity seen as part of the brand tourism around World Cup 2010 in South Africa.
The old memes are almost dead or as Fergie of black eyed peas would say, its so 2000 late. The new meme of Africa is unfolding in front of us. Technologically and culturally the future of Africa is absolutely refreshing.
Below are the slides
- Many thanks to Jepchumba for helping me out, and the Transmediale organizers for inviting me.
At Ars Electronica in Linz, I was struck by the amazing pieces exhibited, and more so by the Ars Electronica center. It is set very near to a bridge on the Danube river.The Exhibitions archive page uses a schematic of the center to give you an idea of what is curated where.
The outdoor space atop the main gallery and before the future lab space seems to tie the old architecture of the church to the futuristic style of the Ars Center. Click on the image below for a larger size, the church is to the left of the future lab stairs.
It is one of those buildings that people either love or hate…I loved it. At night, the LED lights that line the outer glass wall change color. Something like a nocturnal visual surprise every time you glance at it.
The festival itself is something to experience. Since its now over, i would highly recommend visiting the Ars Electronica center to see some of the pieces that formed a benchmark of the festival. Besides, I am convinced that Linz would make a perfect location for any techy, futuristic or even a good action movie. Be it Minority Report 2 or next Bond 007, I can totally vouch for the stunning imagery it would evoke if someone like Daniel Craig would rappel down the Ars Center and straight into a boat on the Danube. (Spielberg, Soderberg, Wachowski brothers and whoever produces 007 – you are welcome )
Ahem, pardon my digression. Back to nerds needing art.
This has admittedly been a very busy year for me, and I have to admit that I did not expect it to be. With time, I’ve realized that being in the tech space can sometimes sap your sense of wonder. Or maybe its just me. If you are one of those people who feel mired in tech and sometimes feel like the ‘wow’ factor is gone when you see new innovations…and it elicits a bland ‘hmmm’ reaction and god forbid ‘meh’ – Well you need a healthy dose of art. Attending Ars Electronica helped me marvel again at what artists, architects, performance artists and idea mongers have to share. Below I will share afew of the pieces i particularly enjoyed, and provide some links to blogposts by the other wonderful speakers and friends from the Cloud Symposium.
Quartet is a Web-interactive robotic music installation. The machine you see in the live video feed is housed at an innovative museum in Linz, Austria, ARS Electronic. Seeing the machine live, inches away is an visceral experience that shows the real power of live music… and that robots can be a part of that experience. Visitors at the museum are able to enter melodies from a laptop in the museum for immediate interactivity
You play a short melody on the site Quartet.cc then you see the music interpreted onto the machine. Try it…
Since I have a thing for mobile phones (Nokia) I greatly enjoyed the robot controlled by bluetooth.
This is a picture of the phone.
This is the little robot it controls. How fun!
This is basically the livescribe pen on steroids. You can write and record audio which is digitized and transferable pdf docs or uploaded online. The steroids bit: The Anoto pen can be used to navigate a map, displaying relevant data on a big screen. For example, if you click on a specific point on the map of Linz, and would like to know the demographics of the region, you can tap on the legend provided on a page to give you stats on number of divorced people between the age of 21 and 45. This was preety cool because it combines maps, tactile input of using a pen and a digital display to add more data.
â€œloopScapeâ€ is an innovative video game for two players that blurs the conventional distinction between good and evil, between â€œmy sideâ€ and â€œthe opposition.â€
The action does not take place on a flat display but rather on a 360 degree band arrayed around the edge of a ceiling-suspended metal doughnut circumnavigated during play. The object is to shoot down the opponent. But be careful! If a fired missile misses its target, it continues on its trajectory and threatens to strike from behind the game figure that launched it.
This loopscape game is a form of interactive device art, and for some reason, it brought to mind the idea of participatory art. Something that Wambui, Sciculturist and I were discussing at RAMOMA gallery in Nairobi. Check out this ‘Watoto Wa Kwetu’ piece by Wambui. More pics are on this flickr set. I think the loopscape game has participatory qualities just like the Watoto wa kwetu paintings, because both pieces are best experienced with others. There are some observations that Wambui made on the Watoto wa kwetu paintings that I would not have noticed. Do note that the paintings are done by a group of children, and not one artist. So, there is that aspect too.
This is just but a sampling of what was in store at Linz. I havent even touched on the animations. I hope you enjoy the perspectives shared by the others on the Cloud Symposium blog, videos posted there and the following links too.
Kristen Taylor – Mosaics, food and the cloud If you are wondering about her cool dress, its vintage. I had to ask I am not much of a beer drinker, so her suggestion to get some Secco (Austrian white sparkling wine) with our dinner was just invaluable.
I keep digressing from this nerds need art theme, but hopefully i can tie it all together.
In the quest to not lose your sense of wonder, sometimes you need to look inward, be quiet and just think about the bigger picture. To find the creative place. If you’ve ever used the words ‘code is poetry’ ‘Math is elegant’ or ‘no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should’. There is this need to look inward, to find that inner muse and embrace the imagination. I think whenever you need to go to such a place, art can provide that gateway.
Where does inanimate material end and where does life begin? Arthur Ganson lets his â€œThinking Chairâ€ straddle the boundary between those two states. Through its movementsâ€”which resemble the gait of a human being walking on two legsâ€”the chair exhibits animate traits. Arthur Ganson had the idea that led to this work while taking a walk. Near his studio, there is a small rock outcropping on a trail, which he likes to walk around in slow circles, deep in thought. During this walking meditation, each cycle finds him back in the same physical place but in a slightly different emotional place