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Agri-tech booms in Africa

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The African agri-tech space is booming, with the number of startups operating in the market growing 110 per cent over the past two years, and over US$19 million invested into the sector in that period.

The Agrinnovating for Africa: Exploring the African Agri-Tech Startup Ecosystem Report 2018, released today by Disrupt Africa, records 82 agri-tech startups in operation across Africa by the start of 2018, with 52 per cent of these ventures launched in the past two years.

The report tracks annual startup activity in the agri-tech space as early as 2010, but finds this activity remained limited until the end of 2015. The current boom began in 2016, and over the following two years 43 new ventures launched across Africa.

The research shows that while Kenya was the early pioneer of the African agri-tech sector, accelerating interest in West Africa over the past two years means this region now dominates the market; and is home to two of the top three agri-tech ecosystems on the continent.

Currently, Kenya and Nigeria tie in first place as the top two agri-tech markets on the continent; while Ghana places third. Together, these three countries account for over 60 per cent of agri-tech startups active in Africa.

Over the course of this period, over US$19 million has been invested into African agri-tech startups; with annual fundraising figures growing rapidly. The amount of funding raised in 2017 grew by over 121 per cent on the total for 2016.

“The scope for innovation in the agricultural sphere is vast – a refreshed take on the sector could unlock huge value for the whole of Africa. That’s why this report is so exciting – it shines a light on the extent to which the continent’s entrepreneurs are already disrupting the agricultural industry. Behind the scenes, there has been formidable acceleration in the agri-tech market recently, and it is one of the most interesting spaces to watch in Africa today,” said Gabriella Mulligan, co-founder of Disrupt Africa.

“Everyone knows how important the agricultural sector is across Africa, but until very recently it remained relatively untouched by tech innovators. That is suddenly changing as entrepreneurs and investors realise the scale of the challenges facing farmers, and spot opportunities to reach huge addressable markets. Our latest report tells you all you need to know if you want to get involved in this still very nascent space,” said Tom Jackson, Disrupt Africa co-founder.

Startups are particularly involved in applying e-commerce to the agriculture industry, with this type of agri-focused e-commerce platform accounting for 32.9 per cent of startups. Information and knowledge sharing platforms are also popular; while a substantial number of entrepreneurs are focused on delivering fintech solutions for farmers.  A total of six sub-sectors are examined in the report.

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CES: Most useless gadgets of all

Choosing the best of show is a popular pastime, but the worst gadgets of CES also deserve their moment of infamy, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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It’s fairly easy to choose the best new gadgets launched at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas last week. Most lists – and there are many – highlight the LG roll-up TV, the Samsung modular TV, the Royole foldable phone, the impossible burger, and the walking car.

But what about the voice assisted bed, the smart baby dining table, the self-driving suitcase and the robot that does nothing? In their current renditions, they sum up what is not only bad about technology, but how technology for its own sake quickly leads us down the rabbit hole of waste and futility.

The following pick of the worst of CES may well be a thinly veneered attempt at mockery, but it is also intended as a caution against getting caught up in hype and justification of pointless technology.

1. DUX voice-assisted bed

The single most useless product launched at CES this year must surely be a bed with Alexa voice control built in. No, not to control the bed itself, but to manage the smart home features with which Alexa and other smart speakers are associated. Or that any smartphone with Siri or Google Assistant could handle. Swedish luxury bedmaker DUX thinks it’s a good idea to manage smart lights, TV, security and air conditioning through the bed itself. Just don’t say Alexa’s “wake word” in your sleep.

2. Smart Baby Dining Table 

Ironically, the runner-up comes from a brand that also makes smart beds: China’s 37 Degree Smart Home. Self-described as “the world’s first smart furniture brand that is transforming technology into furniture”, it outdid itself with a Smart Baby Dining Table. This isa baby feeding table with a removable dining chair that contains a weight detector and adjustable camera, to make children’s weight and temperature visible to parents via the brand’s app. Score one for hands-off parenting.

Click here to read about smart diapers, self-driving suitcases, laundry folders, and bad robot companions.

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CES: Tech means no more “lost in translation”

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Talking to strangers in foreign countries just got a lot easier with recent advancements in translation technology. Last week, major companies and small startups alike showed the CES technology expo in Las Vegas how well their translation worked at live translation.

Most existing translation apps, like Bixby and Siri Translate, are still in their infancy with live speech translation, which brings about the need for dedicated solutions like these technologies:

Babel’s AIcorrect pocket translator

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The AIcorrect Translator, developed by Beijing-based Babel Technology, attracted attention as the linguistic king of the show. As an advanced application of AI technology in consumer technology, the pocket translator deals with problems in cross-linguistic communication. 

It supports real-time mutual translation in multiple situations between Chinese/English and 30 other languages, including Japanese, Korean, Thai, French, Russian and Spanish. A significant differentiator is that major languages like English being further divided into accents. The translation quality reaches as high as 96%.

It has a touch screen, where transcription and audio translation are shown at the same time. Lei Guan, CEO of Babel Technology, said: “As a Chinese pathfinder in the field of AI, we designed the device in hoping that hundreds of millions of people can have access to it and carry out cross-linguistic communication all barrier-free.” 

Click here to read about the Pilot, Travis, Pocketalk, Google and Zoi translators.

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