Judith Okonkwo gives her insight into how immersive technology is expanding in Africa.
Imisi 3D is the leading extended reality creation lab in Nigeria founded by Judith Okonkwo, it was set up to help build the ecosystem and community of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) content creators in Nigeria and across the continent.
Okonkwo is a business psychologist and futurist who decided in 2014 that she wanted to move back to the African continent. She ended up in Lagos, Nigeria when she met one of the co-founders of a company called Andela. Their aim was to pay, train and get ambitious young people with no experience in coding to become world class developers within six months. Returning to Lagos in 2016 she set up Imisi 3D, hoping to branch out from Nigeria and collaborate with other countries across the continent. She began by reaching out to community leaders across the African continent, and this is how the AR/VR Africa community was set up and started to grow. With the help and support of those community members she then went on to organise the first VR/AR hackathon in Nigeria later that year.
Initially Okonkwo was hoping to have participants and workshop leaders all fly in to Nigeria, however she realised that this was too expensive without a sponsor on board. Participants were chosen and prepped two months before the hackathon took place, with full access to the Imisi lab to prepare for the event. 2016’s hackathon winners were a team that created LEARN, a VR experience where you learn how to code through hand gestures.
This was done by putting a Leap Motion onto a Samsung Gear VR. The team are still working on LEARN, developing it so that it may be used it locally. Another example of a solution that came out of the 2016 event was a tourism VR experience that used 360 degree video and additional graphics to showcase various tourist locations around Nigeria. It had a feature to help you subsequently book a trip to a featured location if the user wanted to go there.
“What was really exciting from the last hackathon, people create solutions that we can start to implement in place like Lagos.” says Okonkwo. “AR and VR can have a tremendous impact on the African continent but only if we are able to adapt these technologies to our own needs.”
The 2018 hackathon is more ambitious. Being held on the 20th to the 22nd of April, it will take place across seven countries: Egypt, Tunisia, Nigeria, Cameroon, Mozambique, South Africa and Kenya. It will last 48 hours and will have over 35 teams participating. Okonkwo now has the support of Facebook, GitHub and Unity and the hackathon also has over $15,000 (USD) worth of prizes. Okonkwo says she’s doing this to, “get people to understand that these technologies are there and available for them to use. And even more importantly get them to start thinking about how they can use them to apply to their realities locally.”
With the team of Creating Our Future, she hopes teams will build VR and AR solutions for sectors in education, healthcare, tourism, the environment and social justice. Similar to the hackathon in 2016, participants will benefit from a series of learning opportunities and access mentors in the run up to the hackathon. All applicants will expect to be able to travel and be available in the seven countries the hackathons are hosted in. Okonkwo isn’t sure where participants might be coming from but she says, ” I think it’s likely a place like Kenya you’ll see participants from Uganda or Tanzania.”
When speaking on emerging technologies such as VR and AR in Africa, Okonkwo says that it’s still out of reach for the majority of the population, particularly in a place like Nigeria, and she believes that most of the solutions that will be made will most likely be for the Google Cardboard as this is the most easily accessible headset at the moment.
“Even a lot of places here in Nigeria, VR will be new to people and not a technology that is readily available and accessible. AR less fill, snapchat filters, VR specific headset because certain amount of functionality – not in everybody’s hands yet. Quite possibly places, cities and towns people haven’t bothered to delve into the technology at all. For a lot of people, certainly for a place like Nigeria, the go-to technology is software development or web development which is easily access by laptops wherever you are.”
She also thinks that AR might be easier to access than VR for people in the next couple of years on the African continent as AR technology becomes more readily available on phones.
“We can’t afford to not leverage exponential technologies as a people, I think there are a whole host of everyday things that will only be solved with these technologies. The sooner we start to work with them and start to adapt them for our needs, the better for the whole world.”
Applications will be reviewed and participation confirmation sent out on March 27th. Interested applicants are invited to join the AR/VR Facebook networking group to find potential team members and then apply on the event website, participant confirmation will be sent out on March 27th. Applications to participate are open and will close at 11:59pm on Friday, March 23rd 2018.