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IBM Research and Hello Tractor Pilot Digital Wallet for Agriculture Based on AI and Blockchain

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Platform delivers new services for the agriculture value chain including tractor maintenance, fleet utilization, operator rankings, farm yield forecasting and microfinancing
LAGOS, NIGERIA, 11 December 2018: Scientists from IBM Research and start-up Hello Tractor are piloting an agriculture digital wallet and decision-making tool which provides demand and supply visibility for farmers, tractor fleet providers and banks to give farmers the equipment and technology they need to build a sustainable farm. The technology was unveiled today at TechCrunch Startup Battlefield Africa 2018.
In Sub Sahara Africa more than 60% of farms are powered by humans, with less than 20% provided by engines, a model which is not sustainable as food demand increases due population growth, which is averaging 11 million per year. In addition,according to the Food and Agriculture Organization 35-50% post-harvest losses for perishable agricultural products are lost annually in the region due to poor planting practices.
To address this, in 2014 Hello Tractor launched a mobile platform to enable farmers to access tractor services on demand. Using a mobile app, the service aggregates tractor service requests (e.g., ploughing) and then pairs them with recommended tractors and operators, while simultaneously tracking how many hours each piece of equipment is in the field and area serviced.
“Through valued relationships with companies like John Deere, we’ve been very successful in increasing mechanization access in smallholder communities. To reach the next level, we need to add additional services including predictive fleet utilization and maintenance; operator and tractor scoring; financing and the crop yield forecasting,” said Jehiel Oliver, CEO and Founder of Hello Tractor.
To achieve this, Hello Tractor turned to IBM’s research lab in Nairobi, Kenya. Scientists at the lab are working with Hello Tractor’s developers to apply several technologies, including Watson Decision Platform for Agriculture, Blockchain, IoT and cloud, to bring new services to the app for tractor owners and dealers, farmers and banks. The new services will be tested in a pilot starting in the first half of 2019.
More specifically,
  • Farmers: machine learning will help to predict crop yields, which combined with advanced analytics and the blockchain, can be mined to develop a credit score for loans. Forecasted weather data from The Weather Company, an IBM business; remote sensing data (e.g., satellite); and IoT data from tractors will also be incorporated into the app to help small holder farmers know when to cultivate, the quality of their farm cultivation, what to plant, and the appropriate fertilizer using remoting sensing and IoT data. In the future, the IBM AgroPad technology, developed at IBM’s lab in Brazil, could also be incorporated to determine soil quality.
  • Tractor Fleet Owners: using machine learning and IoT owners will be able to view and manage fleet utilization, predictive maintenance and forecast future tractor utilizations based on history, real-time weather and remote sensing satellite data. Using a five-star rating system, tractor operators will be ranked and utilized based on their training (e.g., ploughing, deep ripping, harrow, fertilizing). Owners will also have financing opportunities, for maintenance and for buying new tractors and implements using historical data.
  • Tractor Dealers: can benefit from improved tractor repair and servicing, after sales support, spare part inventory planning and credit administration.
  • Banks and Financial Institutions: can view and track utilization of tractors to determine a credit portfolio for the farmer and tractor owner, while also evaluating forecasted utilization to make credit decisions for tractor owners based on verified and trusted data on the blockchain.
  • Governments: can utilize data and actionable insights for various decision support capabilities such as for structuring incentives, enforcing regulations prioritizing investments and policy decisions.
The backbone of the agriculture digital wallet is a blockchain-enabled and AI-based decision support platform, which enables capturing, tracking, and instant sharing of data, while creating end-to-end trust and transparency for all the parties involved across the agribusiness value chain.
“Our vision is to leverage AI, blockchain and the Internet of Things to digitize, optimize, and streamline agricultural business processes to create efficiencies and new services from farm-to-fork around the world,” said Dr. Solomon Assefa, Vice President, Emerging Market Solutions and Director, IBM Research – Africa.
For the next phase of the project, IBM researchers and Hello Tractor engineers are looking to use machine learning with image recognition to predict the quality of cultivation. For example, remote sensing data combined with weather data could be used to predict the next harvest.  Plans are also underway to expand the platform beyond Nigeria to Kenya, Mozambique, Senegal, Tanzania, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.
For more details watch this video: https://youtu.be/d8c9zKw8GkM
About Hello Tractor 
Hello Tractor is focused on improving smallholder farmer’s access to timely and affordable tractor services along with other farm inputs. Our technology makes it easy and profitable for tractor owners to (1) monetize tractors as business assets and (2) connect with farmers to schedule tractor services. Hello Tractor’s innovative use of IoT (the Internet of Things) simplifies complex data to ensure transparency, profitability, and accountability across our ecosystem of farmers, tractor owners, tractor dealers, original equipment manufacturers, banks, and governments.
About IBM Research
For more than seven decades, IBM Research has defined the future of information technology with more than 3,000 researchers located across six continents. For more information about IBM Research, visit www.ibm.com/research.

Logistics

Digitalization in logistics – A user’s experience

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Geraldine Mamburu, Founder & MD PDQ Logistics (Source: Geraldine Mamburu)

In some cultures, children are sometimes named after events that would have taken place close to or during their birth.  Jokes around naming children Quarantine Buthelezi, Social-distance Moyo, or Pandemic Ndlovu, were circulating in 2020 and made for a good laugh, however, one couple in India took this a little too seriously and named their twin boy and girl, Corona and Covid.

Looking back, I do not recall ever coming across a proposal to name children after any of the variations around the word digital, after all, every second Point of View that was being released was around digitalization and digital transformation. It got me thinking, and realised that a lot of these terminologies are thrown about in the corporate space, but what does this actually mean to the end-user? How does the user interact, make use of, and appreciate digitalization?

Being in the logistics space has found me interacting with a lot more digital platforms over and above e-commerce, social media, and the all-so-dreaded-virtual-meeting platforms. My favourite most convenient app (which is currently the best thing ever since sliced bread in my books) has got to be Truck Fuel Net (TFN). TFN offers a cloud-based, real-time software management solution that helps me manage all my on-road refuelling and driver spend needs. Given that the bulk of operational costs in road freight is fuel, one must have their finger on the pulse and be on the constant lookout for the best price, over and above monitoring driver efficiency. The TFN Management system helps me decide, where, when, and how much the driver can refuel.

Sidebar – I’ve been driving a Ford Kuga 1.6 AWD for a few years (NB: No fire starter jokes allowed) and for such a small engine, that car can chow fuel – I’m talking 11 – 12km/100! I never used to fill up because it was painful watching all that money go down the drain. When I filled up the truck for the first-time round, let’s just say I needed to sit down because I felt a little dizzy.

Every day, we transport goods worth millions of Rands. It goes without saying that the safety and security of the driver, the goods we carry, as well as the trucks themselves, is of paramount importance. TFN’s solutions enable us to run a cashless operation. In the road freight sector, cargo, equipment, and increasingly drivers, are all targets for criminals and if we can take one incentive out of the equation, the better off we are.

Whilst on cashless operations, I would like to give SANRAL a standing ovation. Now, now, before your eyes roll all the way to the back of your head, let me just say that we might have qualms as “Gautengers” about how they went about the e-toll saga, but their app is such a lifesaver! With an e-tag fitted on the vehicle, I can manage my account quickly and securely. The app works in real-time, allowing me to be kept informed of my spend on vehicles. And lo and behold when I do forget to top up (because …you know …admin), I immediately get a notification the moment my funds are depleted, allowing me to top up immediately whilst the truck is still on route, contributing to a seamless operation. Well done SANRAL. Sometimes the government does get it right …sometimes.

The South African logistics sector contributes about 12% towards the GDP, according to Stellenbosch University and the World Bank. Of that percentage, approximately ¾ is attributed to road freight alone. With such modestly generous figures, it’s encouraging to see various organisations come up with digitally inspired solutions to cater to this industry.

This brings me to my most used platforms, Car Track and Tracker. I can only assume that before the advancement in technology, one must have had to have a great deal of faith, composure, and trust. Not to say that we no longer require these skills, but the ability to log onto these apps and be able to get real-time updates on the exact location of a customer’s goods in transit certainly prevents a blood vessel or two from popping (in the event that you cannot reach the driver.) As for Google Maps, it goes without saying, that this is the backbone of my interaction with these tracking platforms.

There are a bunch of other digital platforms such as Linebooker that I am still to explore as the business continues to grow. However, it’s been interesting to know that before we start thinking self-driven trucks (think of that one scene from Terminator, were the machine is operating the truck…but I digress) and other seemingly complex technological advancements aimed at this industry, there are still digital channels that make the day to day operations in logistics that much easier.

What other digital platforms are you using or have you heard off that have made a world of a difference in the logistics space?

Article by: Geraldine Mamburu, Founder & MD PDQ Logistics

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Technology

Three African-American Female Engineers Who Changed Our World

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Image source: Pexels

The fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) produce innovation that drives us forward as a species. Despite the fact that women and people of color have often been at the forefront of new discoveries, their representation within the STEM fields is historically low.

As culture progresses in understanding toward the value of a diverse workforce, those seeking out the future leaders of STEM are reaching out to underrepresented populations – specifically, women and people of color. One such outreach is ‘Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day’, a global campaign established by the National Society of Professional Engineers.

The event, which takes place this February 25, is run by teachers, volunteers, and STEM professionals, and includes engaging engineering-based learning activities that encourage young women to develop problem solving skills and indulge their interest in science and engineering.

The road to their future success was paved by the intrepid women who came before them, including these three remarkable African-American female engineers:

  • Kimberly Bryant: Seeking to create an inclusive technology learning space for young women of color, Ms. Bryant created the not-for-profit coding camp Black Girls Code. As of late 2019, the organization has 15 chapters, and Ms. Bryant has been recognized as a White House Champion of Change for Tech Inclusion as well as one of 2013’s 25 Most Influential African Americans in Technology.
  • Dr. Patricia Bath: An early pioneer of laser surgery for cataract treatment, Dr. Bath was the first female member of the Jules Stein Eye Institute, the first female African-American surgeon at UCLA Medical Center, and the first female leader of a postgraduate ophthalmology training program.
  • Alice Parker: A housewife from New Jersey, Mrs. Parker developed and filed a patent for a gas-powered central heating system inspired by cold coastal winters. Her filing came before both the Women’s Liberation Movement and the Civil Rights Movement, a remarkable achievement for an African-American woman during her time.

More stories of African-American female engineers and  female leadership in engineering can be seen here:

To discover more about Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day, visit NSPE online.

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Press Release

North Ladder Secures $5 Million Series A Financing Round To Accelerate Global Expansion

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North Ladder Team (Source: Siddharth Sudhakar)

North Ladder (previously called BuyBack Bazaar), a UAE based secured trading platform for pre-owned luxury assets and electronics, today announced a $5 million Series A funding round led by regional venture capital firm BECO Capital. The new investment will help the company scale up its technology platform, enhance customer experience and pursue further geographic expansion.

The homegrown start-up also revealed that it will begin operating under the new brand name North Ladder effective immediately, representing the company’s strategy of charting new markets and supporting individuals across the globe in their endeavour to elevate their financial situation. The disruptive and innovative technology platform is the first of its kind, providing access to verified buyers of second-hand goods and instant cash. North Ladder currently enables users to sell electronics such as phones, laptops, tablets, and smart watches, as well as luxury assets including watches and cars, with a unique option of buying it back within a few months.

The Series A financing builds on an exceptional year for North Ladder which saw rapid growth of its clients, network of buyers and corporate partnerships. To date, the platform has witnessed over 15,000 transactions in the UAE, with over 85 different nationalities served while earning an impressive 4.9/5 customer satisfaction rating. In 2021, the start-up is looking to establish its presence in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United States, with a focus on scaling the platform significantly in the next 18 to 24 months.

“North Ladder has demonstrated tremendous success with its unique model of helping customers access immediate funds against their assets. The provision of a seamless and trusted digital platform for the sale of pre-owned goods has immense socially transformative potential at a global scale. We are excited about partnering with them to take their services to the next level,” said Dany Farha, CEO & Managing Partner, BECO Capital.

The company recently appointed Sandeep Shetty, former Managing Director of the core ride hailing business at Careem, as Cofounder and Chief Executive Officer of North Ladder. Prior to Careem he also led the digital transformation program at Emirates NBD and has held leadership positions at McKinsey & Company and GE Capital across India, the United States and the Middle East. Sandeep joins the leadership team of co-founders Pishu Ganglani and Ricky Husaini who together bring years of prior global start-up, financial services, technology and operations experience.

“Our exciting partnership with the region’s leading investor BECO Capital gives us the opportunity to scale operations in the UAE and expand to other strategic markets, with the mission of meaningfully impacting people across all strata of society,” said Sandeep Shetty of North Ladder. “Our global auction brings professional buyers from around the world to compete and provide local customers with the best prices and no hidden surprises.”

Since its launch in 2018, North Ladder has been recognized as one of the “Top 5 innovative start-ups in the MENA region” by PayPal backed accelerator, Village Capital and awarded as an Innovator by Entrepreneur Middle East.

 

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