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Dr. Kala Fleming, IBM Africa Research


From farming to laundry: How Internet of Things is reshaping experience

Part of the traffic problem is caused by potholes littered in sections of the city which multiply rapidly after a rainy season.

Part of the traffic problem is caused by potholes littered in sections of the city which multiply rapidly after a rainy season.

Nairobi’s traffic was ranked the fourth most painful experience among the 20 global cities surveyed in the IBM Commuter Pain Index  four years ago. The survey measured commuter frustration in the sampled cities including New Delhi, Moscow, Beijing and Paris. In another study, the Kenyan Government estimates costs the country Sh50 million everyday due to traffic congestion in Nairobi.

Part of the traffic problem is caused by crater-sized potholes littered in sections of the city and which multiply rapidly after a rainy season. Without a timely and accurate mapping system to show which roads need urgent attention, authorities are unable to prioritize servicing.

This is until the city’s garbage trucks were fitted with sensors and the drivers equipped with mobile handsets as part of IBM’s traffic management system. The sensors detect potholes or bumps based on the movement of the truck and then transmit the data in real time to a cloud platform for mapping.

The Internet of Things – where machines and devices ‘talk to each other’ through sensors – is driving innovation and providing practical solutions to everyday problems. Analysts at Gartner estimate 4.9 billion connected things will be in use by end of 2015.


“From an industry perspective, manufacturing, utilities and transportation will be the top three verticals using IoT in 2015 – all together they will have 736 million connected things in use. By 2020, the ranking will change with utilities in the No. 1 spot, manufacturing will be second and government will be third, totaling 1.7 billion IoT units installed,” said Jim Tully, Vice president at Gartner.

The Internet of Things is not just a futuristic sci-fi concept in trial phase. ‘Mobile phone’ farmers – city residents with small farms in rural Kenya – can now monitor water supply, soil moisture and photosynthesis through data sensors in the soil. The EZ-Farm, an IBM Research Africa project, aims to improve farm yields by revealing actionable insights.

“The goal of what we are doing is to generate a range of insights that are going to increase the confidence of investors such as banks, insurance companies and even telcos. If you can imagine, for example, banks are more likely to support small scale farmers if they know their profits are not at risk because of water,” explained Dr. Kala Fleming, Research Scientist with IBM Africa.

From the farm fields to the cities, intelligent IoT is increasingly finding utility by connecting sensors to everyday use machines. For instance, washing machines can now signal users when parts need to be replaced, cars are getting over-the-air software updates, and fridges are informing owners on what to restock via email or text message.

Dr. Kala Fleming, IBM Africa Research

Dr. Kala Fleming, IBM Africa Research

Speaking at the IBM Insight Conference in Las Vegas, Nevada, Chris O’Connor, IBM General Manager, Internet of Things Offerings, said although IoT presents new opportunities in revenue generation and engagement with consumers, enterprises face a number of challenges.

“You need to understand what to do with the unprecedented volume of data and how this data transforms your business,” said O’Connor.

O’Connor highlights challenges presented by the prevailing operating environment that is trying to keep up with machine to machine communication.

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“There are things that you have to think about depending on your geography, the rules and regulations your industry has adopted or understanding of the privacy and security landscape,” explained O’Connor.

In spite of the hurdles, the economic opportunity for IoT cannot be ignored. McKinsey & Company estimates Internet of Things economic impact to peak at $11.1 trillion by 2025.

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