All-Girls Robotic Team From Ghana Wins World Robofest Championship

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Methodist Girls’ High School at Mamfe Akuapem in the Eastern Region (Source: Africa.com)

A few weeks ago, an all-girls team from Ghana won the World Robofest 2019 Championship in the US, defeating teams from the United States, Mexico, Japan, China, Korea, South Africa, etc. The 20th edition of World Robofest championship competition took place in the state of Michigan, in the United States. I join myself in applauding this outstandingly great feat by the all-girls Ghanaian team from the Methodist Girls’ High School at Mamfe Akuapem in the Eastern region of Ghana: we are very proud of them.

Enjoy the excerpt below from Face2FaceAfrica, and join us in congratulating these girls as well as their coaching staff. For the full article, go to Face2FaceAfrica.

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All-girls robotics team from Ghana (Team Acrobot) – Photo: Ghana Robotics Academy Foundation

Ghana presented an all-girls robotics team for the senior division of the World Robofest Championship in the United States and they won the topmost position by beating teams from the United States, Mexico, Egypt, South Korea and dozens of others.

Named Team Acrobot, the nine girls from the Methodist Girls’ High School in the Eastern Region of Ghana dominated the 10 broad and challenging categories of the championship held from May 16 to 18 at the Lawrence Technological University (LTU), Southfield, Michigan.

[…] The team from Ghana was able to build a robot that arranged boxes according to a binary number they were given during the competition. They also completed their missions successfully.

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Team Acrobot – Photo: Ghana Robotics Academy Foundation

Team Acrobot was not the only team from Ghana. The West African country also presented a team for the junior division called Team Cosmic Intellect. The team of five boys from the Mikrobot Academy in Ghana came 6th out of the overall 52 teams in the division.

[…] The Ghana Robotics Academy Foundation was founded by Dr. Ashitey Trebi-Ollennu, the Ghanaian robotics engineer at NASA and the chief engineer and technical group leader for the mobility and manipulation group at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. He is one of the lead engineers behind NASA’s Mars Rover and InSight projects. […]

The Lebombo Bone: The Oldest Mathematical Artifact in the World

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The Lebombo bone

Have you ever heard of the Lebombo Bone? It is even older than the Ishango bone. It is indeed the oldest known mathematical artifact in the world. Discovered in the 1970s in Border Cave, a rock shelter on the western scarp of the Lebombo Mountains in an area near the border of South Africa and Swaziland (now Eswatini). The bone was found on the Eswatini side, and dates from 35,000 BC. It consists of 29 distinct notches that were deliberately cut into a baboon’s fibula.

The bone is between 44,200 and 43,000 years old, according to 24 radiocarbon datings. This is far older than the Ishango bone with which it is sometimes confused. Other notched bones are 80,000 years old but it is unclear if the notches are merely decorative or if they bear a functional meaning.

According to The Universal Book of Mathematics, the Lebombo bone’s 29 notchesmay have been used as a lunar phase counter, in which case African women may have been the first mathematicians, because keeping track of menstrual cycles requires a lunar calendar.” However, the bone is clearly broken at one end, so the 29 notches may or may not be a minimum number. In the cases of other notched bones since found globally, there has been no consistent notch tally, many being in the 1–10 range. The Lebombo bone resembles a calendar used by the early men of the area, coming from the San clans of Namibia; this way of making tallies is still used by the San people today.

 

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Top image: Lebombo bone. Bottom: Ishango bone with prime numbers engraving (J.D. Loreto and D.H. Hurlbert Smithsonian)

According to The Universal Book of Mathematics, the Lebombo bone’s 29 notches “may have been used as a lunar phase counter, in which case African women may have been the first mathematicians, because keeping track of menstrual cycles requires a lunar calendar.” However, the bone is clearly broken at one end, so the 29 notches may or may not be a minimum number. In the cases of other notched bones since found globally, there has been no consistent notch tally, many being in the 1–10 range. This resembles a calendar used by the early men of the area, coming from the San clans of Namibia. These represent the earliest unambiguous evidence for modern human behavior. An article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) on recent archaeological discoveries, “Early evidence of San material culture represented by organic artifacts from Border Cave, South Africa” , has shown that bone tools were already present 75,000 years ago and were used in San culture.

To anyone who ever doubted it, Africa is indeed the cradle of humanity… and women (if it is indeed a lunar tool) were quite advanced mathematicians 35,000 years ago, using calculators to make lunar calendars!

 

Smart Gloves to Turn Sign Language into Audio Speech

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Roy Allela has developed a glove that translates sign language to speech via a bluetooth-enabled smartphone. Photograph: Brett Eloff/Royal Academy of Engineering

I once observed the communication of a mute person on his tablet via Skype to his relative. While waiting in the airport that day, I marveled at the beauty of technology, at what had been made possible: that someone born mute or deaf could communicate, via sign language, to his loved ones, make up a ‘video’ call to tell them ‘I am catching up my plane’ or ‘I made it safely to the airport, we should be taking off shortly’. Now this invention out of Africa tries to make into audible speech Sign language so that all could be able to communicate. Simply love it! The article is from the Guardian.

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Roy Allela’s six-year-old niece was born deaf. She found it difficult to communicate with her family, none of whom knew sign language. So Allela – a 25-year-old Kenyan technology evangelist who works for Intel and tutors data science at Oxford University – invented smart gloves that convert sign language movements into audio speech.

The gloves – named Sign-IO – have flex sensors stitched on to each finger. The sensors quantify the bend of the fingers and process the letter being signed. The gloves are paired via Bluetooth to a mobile phone application that Allela also developed, which then vocalises the letters.

My niece wears the gloves, pairs them to her phone or mine, then starts signing and I’m able to understand what she’s saying,” says Allela. “Like all sign language users, she’s very good at lip reading, so she doesn’t need me to sign back.”

Allela piloted the gloves at a special needs school in rural Migori county, south-west Kenya, where feedback helped inform one of the most important aspects of the gloves: the speed at which the language is converted into audio.

People speak at different speeds and it’s the same with people who sign: some are really fast, others are slow, so we integrated that into the mobile application so that it’s comfortable for anyone to use it.”

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 The Sign-IO app, which vocalises words signed by the person wearing the gloves. Photograph: Brett Eloff/Royal Academy of Engineering

Users can also set the language, gender and pitch of the vocalisation through the app, with accuracy results averaging 93%, says Allela. Perhaps most importantly, the gloves can be packaged in any style the user wants, whether that’s a princess glove or a Spider-Man one, he says. “It fights the stigma associated with being deaf and having a speech impediment. If the gloves look cool, every kid will want to know why you have them on.”

The gloves recently won the hardware trailblazer award from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) and Allela is using the prize money to land more accurate vocal predictions.

His goal is to place at least two pairs of gloves in every special needs school in Kenya, and believes they could be used to help the 34 million children worldwide who suffer disabling hearing loss.

I was trying to envision how my niece’s life would be if she had the same opportunities as everyone else in education, employment, all aspects of life,” says Allela.

The general public in Kenya doesn’t understand sign language so when she goes out, she always needs a translator. Picture over the long term that dependency, how much that plagues or impairs her progress in life … when it affects you personally, you see how hard people have it in life. That’s why I’ve really strived to develop this project to completion.”

Turning Air into Drinking Water: An African Invention

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Beth Koigi plans to use her Majik Water innovation to increase access to drinking water among low-income households. Photograph: Brett Eloff/Royal Academy of Engineering

I had to share this beautiful invention coming out of Africa, helping thousands get clean water, and water in times of drought. The article can be found on The Guardian‘s website.

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When Beth Koigi moved into her university dormitory in eastern Kenya, she was horrified that the water coming out of the tap was filthy and laden with bacteria. Within months, she had built her first filter and was soon selling filters to others. When drought hit in 2016 and water restrictions saw Koigi’s water supply turned off entirely, she began thinking about water scarcity and its relation to climate change.

Going for months without any tap water became a very bad situation,” she says. “Where I used to live, we didn’t get any tap water at all, so even doing simple things like going to the toilet – I would go to the mall instead. Having no water at all is worse than just having unpurified water, so I started thinking about a way to not have to rely on the council.”

While on a four-month programme at the Silicon Valley-based thinktank Singularity University, Koigi, 27, joined up with two other women – American environmental scientist Anastasia Kaschenko and British economist Clare Sewell – to create Majik Water, which captures water from the air and converts it into drinking water using solar technology.

The device – which won first prize this year at the EDF Africa awards – could provide a solution for the 1.8 billion people predicted to have a shortage of water by 2025, according to the UN, says Kaschenko.

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The Majik Water system, which can generate up to 10 litres of filtered water a day. Photograph: Brett Eloff/Royal Academy of Engineering

There’s an interesting relationship between climate change and the water in the atmosphere,” she says.

There’s six times more water in the air than in all the rivers in the world. With every 1F increase in temperature, water begins to evaporate on the ground but increases by about 4% in the atmosphere, and that’s water that’s not being tapped.”

Majik Water – from the Swahili maji for water and “k” for kuna (harvest) – uses desiccants such as silica gels to draw water from the air. The gels are then heated up with solar power to release the water. The current system can generate up to 10 litres of filtered water per day, with the team looking to scale up to 100-litre systems at a cost of only £0.08 per 10 litres.

The solar panels used for the prototype are the most expensive input on the device, says Koigi, who is looking for ways to drive those costs down.

African Traditional Medicine: the case of Lantana and Hot Fever

When I was younger, in my village, in some cases when someone had a high fever, the person will be given a hot tea with Lantana flowers (infused) to drop the fever; it was very efficient. Now, not all Lantana plants were used, there was a particular species of it… but I love the idea of using our own medicinal herbs for our use. So it is a mistake today, after having had the Kahun Gynecological Papyrus, or the Ebers papyrus centuries ago, to assume or act as if African traditional medicine is all bogus or full of charlatanism, and that the only alternatives for us Africans, are the pills that we buy in pharmacy made abroad in some laboratories in the Western hemisphere to address mostly their needs with no respect for our environments and realities. I am not saying to go out and cut all the plants out there, or not to buy drugs in pharmacies, but I am saying that African traditional medicine is rich, and we should also cherish and enhance it. I am sure there is so much that African herbs and medicine could add to the world. We just have to develop it, and to develop it, we need to start cherishing and valuing what we have, not leaving that to Western tourists on visit to claim to have discovered something that was ours and was there all along! African, start loving who you are, appreciating what you have, and enhancing what nature gave you (when it is good, of course)!

Lantana

Solar-powered Electric Cars made in Togo by Togolese for Togolese

Solar-powered electric cars made in Africa by Africans for Africans. I love these ideas, and I had to share with you. Check out the first electric solar cars made in Togo by Togolese for Togolese. I love the intervention of the company’s founders who talked about providing farmers with ways to take their harvest to the market efficiently without having to worry fuel prices. They make tricycles and pickups for the transport of goods. The rechargeable car batteries have an autonomy of 180 km, and the solar panel a power of about 250 W; inside there is also a mini-fan and a camera for reverse parking. I salute their work which is full of ingenuity, determination, and above all is environmentally friendly! Bravo!

 

Ancient Britons were Black, confirming Cheikh Anta Diop’s Work

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Cheikh Anta Diop

A few weeks ago, we woke up to the face of Cheddar man, the ancestor of the modern-day Briton: he was a Black man with curly hair, and blue eyes! If this was a shock to many, to us who had long espoused the ideas of Cheikh Anta Diop with the African Origin of Civilization, this came as no surprise. Africa is the cradle of humanity, so it is only normal that the ancestors of anybody out there should be black, and that in reality, the idea of race as we know it today should be abolished, since in reality we are all brothers and sisters, with the same blood flowing through our veins, and now (officially) the same ancestors.

'The African Origin of Civilization' by Cheikh Anta Diop
‘The African Origin of Civilization’ by Cheikh Anta Diop

O Cheikh Anta Diop, you, so despised by Western researchers who hated your work, because you said that Africa was the cradle of humanity; that everything started in Africa, and that Egypt and modern day Africans descended from the same ancestors, in other words, were the same people, you have now been vindicated many many years after!

Achenyo Idachaba tells us how to turn a deadly plant into a thriving business

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Fishermen wade through water hyacinth in Lake Victoria (Source: Lilian Ochieng, The East African)

Ever heard of the Water hyacinth (Jacinthe des eaux)? that plant that has been suffocating rivers around the globe? That plant can be seen as one drives on the Wouri River bridge in Douala, and in major cities in Africa as it proliferates in the local rivers. Often, one can see fishermen in boats trying to uproot the plant? Years ago, Lake Victoria (Africa’s largest body of fresh water) was luscious, today the water hyacinth has had negative effects on its ecosystem, not only depriving the lake of its oxygen thus reducing nutrients for fishes, blocking water ways, and breeding all sorts of new diseases. This plant is not native of Africa. Achenyo Idachaba has turned a major problem for the local fishermen and villages as their source of livelihood was being extinguished by this plant, into a source of revenue while getting rid of the plant and developing arts and crafts. Enjoy her TED talk.

Thomas Fuller: African Slave and Mathematician in the 1700s

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Sir Isaac Newton

Here is a quote from the obituary of an African man born somewhere between modern-day Liberia and Benin in 1710, and enslaved and shipped to become a slave in America: “Thus died Negro Tom, this self-taught arithmetician, this untutored Scholar! — Had his opportunities of improvement been equal to those of thousands of his fellow-men, neither the Royal Society of London, the Academy of Science at Paris, nor even Newton himself, need have been ashamed to acknowledge him a Brother in Science” [Columbian Centenial, December 29, 1790, No. 707, p.123, col.32, Boston, Massachusettes]. So who was this Negro Tom, a slave who was given an obituary in a American journal in the 1700s?

ArithmeticsThomas Fuller, also known as Negro Tom or the “Virginia Calculator”, can be called today a mental calculator or simply a human calculator. In today’s world when most people run to their phones or calculators to find answers, He solved problems faster than over 99% of men of his time, and in his head!

When Thomas Fuller was 70 years old, a Philadelphia Quaker and businessman, William Hartshorne, and three fellow Quakers traveled from Philadelphia to meet the slave known for his arithmetic feats. One of the visitors took notes and made calculations on paper, and the others fired questions at the gray-haired old slave.

First question: How many seconds are there in a year and a half? In about two minutes came Tom Fuller’s reply — 47,304,000.

Next question: How many seconds has a man lived who is 70 years, 17 days and 12 hours old? Fuller’s answer — 2,210,500,800 — came in a minute and a half. “Objection,” called the recorder, who was busily multiplying on paper. He challenged Fuller’s answer as being too large. But Fuller retorted promptly” ” ‘top, massa, you forget de leap years.” By adding the seconds of the leap years, the recorder finally acknowledged the correctness of Fuller’s result.

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Calcul

The final question was proposed to Fuller: Suppose a farmer has 6 sows and each sow has 6 female pigs the first year, and they all increase in the same proportion each year. At the end of the 8th year, how many sows will the farmer have? The question was stated in such a way that Fuller misinterpreted it. As soon as the statement was clarified, his lightning mind responded: 34,588,806. (Fuller misinterpreted the question because the term “proportion” was ambiguous.)

These questions were asked at a time when Thomas Fuller was 70 years old; just imagine how fast he must have been when he was younger? It is such a pain that such a great mind was imprisoned in slavery!

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Yoruba man ca 1800s

His capacities were not a rarity in Africa. It is now known that Thomas Fuller must have already developed his calculation abilities in Africa. John Bardot’s 1732 account of people in Fida on the coast of Benin: “The Fidasians are so expert in keeping accounts, that they easily reckon as exact, and as quick by memory, as we can do with pen and ink, though the sum amount to never so many thousands: which very much facilities the trade the Europeans have with them.”

To learn more about Thomas Fuller, please check out the original article in the American Museum, Vol.V, 62, Phila., 1799., and the work of the Mathematicians of the African diaspora. Also check out this article in The Christian Science Monitor by Jane H. Pejsa, “A Wizard in any age.” I think the title should have been “a wizard in any age, and under any circumstances” because without slavery Tom Fuller would have been a genius and his name would have been on our lips the same way Newton’s has been for the past 300 years!

Archaeologists discover three ancient tombs in Egypt dating back 2000 years

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Egyptian mummy (Source: BBC / AFP)

Yes… I think most of Egypt is truly a treasure for archaeology, and for humanity as a whole. I would love to have the chance to work on one of those excavations!

The excerpt below is from the BBC. For the full article, please go to the BBC article.

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Archaeologists have discovered three tombs that date back around 2,000 years in southern Egypt.

They were found in burial grounds in the Al-Kamin al-Sahrawi area in Minya [Governorate ]/ province, south of Cairo.

The tombs contained a collection of different sarcophagi, or stone coffins, as well as clay fragments.

Egypt’s antiquities ministry said the discovery “suggests that the area was a great cemetery for a long span of time“.

One of the tombs, which was reached through a shaft carved in rock, contained four sarcophagi that had been sculpted to depict a human face.

In another, excavators found six burial holes, including one for the burial of a small child. …