October 26, 2018
BITRI Chief Executive Officer doing one-on-one interviews with members of the media. BITRI hosts the annual media brief in a bid to update the media on its projects, as well as facilitate the dissemination of information on the same to different publics.
BITRI recently hosted its annual media brief at the Maranyane House in the BITRI Main Boardroom.
BITRI Chief Executive Officer in addressing the gathering, expressed gratitude towards the media.
“It is always a pleasure to have our stakeholders, the media with us. This is the fifth year we update you on our progress. You have been our partner from the beginning. You have been supportive of our events. We also recognize you do not just cover BITRI, but also, RSTI [Research, Science, Technology and Innovation]. There is an increasing coverage of RSTI matters in newspapers and other forms of news broadcasting. For recognizing that the media is an important stakeholder, the Research and Partnerships Department has embarked on upscaling journalists that report on RSTI by developing a program that capacitates such journalists. This year, I have been informed that we will have one of you travel with us to Stellenbosch for a Science Communication course,” said Prof Masupe.
Prof Masupe also expressed a desire for a situation in which RSTI gets even more coverage and prominence as one of the agenda items for media houses since resources as dedicated to the sector, and the socio-economic benefits derived from such impacts of facets of life.
Prof Masupe further elaborated “BITRI has been in existence for approximately four years. We have been established to do needs-based research that has an impact on the lives of Batswana. We are expected to deliver high quality products and we try to deliver exactly that. Our work is based on collaboration and co-creation, and these are very important operative words in the sense that in collaboration, you tend to leapfrog, instead of starting on things that have already been done. We link up with our research partners, within the country and internationally, to co-create. Whatever we do, we keep the end user in mind. We develop products working with people who will eventually use the products that we develop. That is the philosophy with which we run our organization.”
The CEO also outlined the BITRI research focus areas, giving an example of the Climate Smart Agriculture project that was initially rolled out in the Barolong farms, but has since been upscaled to cover the Masunga cluster. CSA as a decision support tool, has been reported to help small scale farmers to deal with the risk factors, chief amongst them being erratic and low rainfall and high temperatures.
The CEO also expounded on the air filtration membranes developed under the Nanomaterials Division and in collaboration with a South African-based, explaining that the membranes can be used under dust masks to not only filter out dust, but also microbes, including viruses. The same company is said to be selling around twenty thousand dust masks in Botswana, so in the scenario that BITRI manages to put the membranes inside the masks, the organization and Botswana would derive value and revenue from an already established market. The membrane can also be used in protective clothing.
“Still under the Natural Resources and Materials, we have developed water filters using coal, nanomaterials as well as ceramics. As I have said before, our mandate promotes the use of local natural resources. With the water filter made from coal, we have been able to remove odour. We are at a point at which we are testing water from different points in the country, including areas in which the problem is well-documented such as Mmanoko and Oodi. We are also, in the process of attaining accreditation for our Centre for Materials Science laboratories. Currently most of the testing jobs done by the mining, water distribution and built environment enterprises are done in South Africa. So, we are hopeful of benefiting from those transactions once our labs are accredited. We have the capabilities to do the tests, but, we still have to undergo accreditation, and are hopeful that we would have achieved that stage by end of December ,” added Prof Masupe.
The CEO, then eloped to address the focus areas and projects under the Technologies Department.
“Under Energy, we have two major programs. One is under solar energy and the other in biomass. With respect to the biomass project, we have partnered with UNDP to build thirty prototyping bio-digesters. The project targets to build one thousand bio-digesters so that people in the Southern District can be able to produce their own gas and utilize it in their homes. In the solar space, there are two examples, being the Solar Thermal Testing Facilities located here at our main campus, and, you will have a chance to see the solar PV traffic system nearby. That specific one uses both grid electricity as well as solar. We are attempting to demonstrate that solar is as good enough as grid electricity. We recently handed project in which a house for a Poverty Eradication beneficiary had been electrified with a solar PV system. Again, it is an advocacy project to demonstrate to the public that solar energy is a sustainable alternative,” Prof Masupe elaborated.
“The Information Systems and Technology division serves as our development house. It is a group of developers at BITRI who do research and they develop software systems and applications. Our key theme in that space is Data Analytics. We found out that there is little to no data to analyse, so we have had to build front systems to collect data so that we can later do analytics. We have built a School Management System that had various capabilities. He had earlier built a tutoring solution, which can now be incorporated into the School Management System. We are piloting the system at Bakgatla CJSS in Mochudi. As I have emphasized that when we conceptualise our projects, we have to have the end user in mind. We have been through a stage in which we worked with officials at the Ministry of Basic Education conceptualizing the project, interrogating their statement of user requirements, and then finalising the documentation that would ensure the system can be an implantable solution and solve one of the key challenges for the country. The system is almost ready and is customizable.
“We have also developed a system called Motlhokomedi. Currently, it is being tested, but its intended use at the moment, is for Non-Communicable Diseases, such as Diabetes and Hypertension. It is also a fully-functional system. We have a relationship with Scottish Livingstone Hospital in Molepolole where we will pilot that particular system. We also a similar arrangement with a Non-Communicable Disease clinic in Block 6.”
“Still under IST, we have the ICTAssociates program in which we take ICT graduates. We enrolled sixty Associates under the first cohort. In the first year, the Associates work on BITRI research projects, and in the second year, they conceptualise and work on business ideas that they can commercialise. Some of them produced projects that are ready for commercialization. We have the SignCoach app that teaches Botswana Sign Language. The app has three levels and it is available on Google Play Store. We developed the app in collaboration with the Botswana Society for the Deaf. The app is ready for commercialization. We have also, through the ICTAssociates program, developed a Fleet Management System that we have tested here at BITRI. You can track, and do geo-fencing of vehicles, amongst others. It is a locally-developed solution, and we are in talks with Tlokweng Landboard in conjunction to piloting the project with them. We are in talks with BUAN as they have a significant fleet,” said Prof Masupe while detailing specifics of some of the projects under the ICTAssociates program.
“We also have Nthusa Distress app which when you are in distress, by the click of a button on your mobile phone, it routes a distress call to the Fire Department, the police or an ambulance. We have held talks with Emergency Assist and others, and the Botswana Police Service have also expressed interest and we are looking at piloting the system with them. We also have an indigenous knowledge portal where we started with Morabaraba, and now Mhele. You can download these games and even play against others in different geographic locations because they are online.
We have products that are almost ready for commercialization. This bring us to the technology transfer stage. We have a policy that guides us on technology transfer. We have three modes: we can spin out or spin off with a subsidiary. We can license to a company that is existing or an individual who will set up a company, or we can assign or sell that technology. We are in the middle of drafting a licensing agreement for the KSBB Technology. We will look into all the three modes in assessing the best route for commercialization for specific products,” added Prof Masupe.
The CEO also highlighted a variation of the collaboration approach, citing an instances in which companies approach BITRI for projects in a specific area. Prof Masupe elaborated on the partnership between BITRI and with Botswana GeoScience Institute where BITRI developed a solution for them under the IST Division. The CEO said BITRI is also working with BGI in another project that seeks to find the binding material or clinker derived from limestone. Once more, the CEO emphasized that the collaboration anchors back on the statement that BITRI will use local natural resources to develop solutions to ascertain that the country attain security and self-sufficiency.
“So, as an organization, within the next two or so years up until 2021, what are we going to be doing? As an organization with so much potential, and so many innovations, we want to go commercial. We want to afford all Batswana an opportunity to participate in those commercial entities. The case in point would be the licensing of the KSBB Technology that I spoke about earlier. We floated an Expression of Interest for local companies to produce the KSBB blend. A local company was awarded to contract and they will be using the fly ash from Morupule. Again, we had to ensure that we use the locally-available fly ash instead of importing the same. So, what we will be doing in the next few years is to ensure that we have proper business cases we start at BITRI such that by the time of commercialization, we already know the preferred mode of commercialization. We have set ourselves a target that by 2021, BITRI should be producing forty percent of its revenue,” Prof Masupe concluded.
At the end of the media brief, Senior Researcher – Energy, Dr. Edward Rakgati led the media and a select number of members of the BITRI Management team for a demonstration of one of the proofs of concept for powering traffic lights with solar energy. At the testing site by the main junction near Maranyane House, Dr. Rakgati explained the technology at the site and that used at the Maruapula junction, and that the latter is completely solar-powered, while the former principally uses solar energy, with grid electricity as back up. Dr Rakgati fielded questions on the functionalities of the systems, the 4-day autonomy window, and he also explained that the piloting stage would enable BITRI to identify the more optimal setup between the two.
Local print and broadcast medias covered the event and are expected to produce editorial items based on the information shared with them.
BITRI hosts the media brief in a bid to update the media on its projects, as well as facilitate the dissemination of the same to different publics.