Locally developed app maps townships and rural areas beyond Google’s reach

A Limpopo-based startup whose integrated mapping systems could help emergency services, government agencies and businesses identify addresses in townships and rural areas has won first prize at the second “Eureka meet the Atlantic” held in Cape Town in February.

The forum was co-organized by the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) and the Portuguese Presidency of the Eureka network.

Abiri Innovations walked away with a cash prize of R60,000 for developing an app that uses Earth observation technology to provide digital mapping services in areas that Google Maps cannot reach.

Founded by Tswelelo Piet Mashita in 2018, Abiri Innovations is based in Mokopane, Limpopo. Its competitive advantage lies in its ability to identify households in townships and rural communities, which conventional navigation and maps cannot. The company also offers livestock tracking and monitoring for households and farmers in rural areas.

Mashita was inspired to develop the Abiri app in 2016, when he and a friend traveled to a wedding in Soweto using conventional navigation. To their surprise, the navigation system took them to the wrong house and they had to rely on word of mouth to get to their destination.

Using a combination of drones, satellite imagery and data, as well as contributions from community members, the Abiri app is proving very successful. The data collected also highlights areas rich in biodiversity while betraying many signs of destruction and degradation due to human activities.

“One of the things in our mapping process that we’re interested in is the rate of development in relation to natural habitats, virgin forests and biodiversity,” Mashita said.

Their plan is to use the data they collect to build an artificial intelligence system that can offer predictive insights into where the most severe deforestation, wildfires and biosphere depletion are likely to occur. produce, as well as measures to mitigate these effects in these vulnerable communities.

“Our product is an app which is a collaboration with community members, so that we provide the best services co-created with communities,” Mashita said.

The app targets previously excluded and marginalized people, such as townships and villages whose digital presence, navigation and household identity are missing from conventional mapping platforms.

The start-up derives its revenue from advertisements on its online platform and also offers information about specific localities to corporate clients. Since its inception, Abiri has mapped several remote areas of South Africa, and has over 3,500 users.

It has been self-funded so far, but is engaging with potential investors to expand and reach more parts of the country. It also hopes to expand to other Southern African Community Development Countries (SADCs) and, within the next 10 years, cover the entire African continent.

Explaining his journey so far, Mashita said resigning from a high-paying job to embark on an entrepreneurial journey required a giant leap of faith, but he has no regrets and is grateful for the support he has received. of his family and his late mother.

He is also pleased with the company’s progress so far. In 2019, Abiri was named the overall winner of the Southern Africa Innovation Support (SAIS) Boostup Pitch competition in Helsinki, Finland.

“Winning the Eureka Awards means a lot to us as a company, as the award will allow us to extend our solutions to more communities. It also means we are doing something worthy of this award, and it motivates us to continue to solve the problems we are tackling,” Mashita added.

He thanked the DSI and its partners for their continued support in strengthening the innovation ecosystem and for their programs aimed at empowering entrepreneurs and start-ups in the country.

Zama Mthethwa is an Account Executive in the Department of Science and Innovation

Jennifer C. Burleigh