Incredible Inventions That Came From Africa

Did you know that the CAT scan machine was invented by a South African? Or that mathematics was invented in Africa? For far too long, Africa has been characterized as a poor and developing continent without recognizing the many achievements that have come from there. Innovation has been a part of Africa’s history since the earliest civilizations. Contributions from the continent have had a lasting impact on civilization and continue to add significant innovative technology. Here’s a sample of remarkable technology that’s come out of the motherland.


Yes, that’s right. Mathematics first came from Africa. It may very well be in our parent’s DNA to push us to get A’s in math and all other subjects in school. The Lebombo is the oldest known possible mathematic object, found in the Lembombo Mountains of Swaziland. It has been dated to approximately 35,000 B.C.. Many of the mathematical concepts you learned in school were also developed in Africa. Textbooks written by Ancient Egyptians included division and multiplication of fractions, and geometric formulas used to calculate the area and volume of shapes.


Carbon Steel is used today for structural purposes such as in buildings, pipelines, cars, and fridges or in cutting tools and blades. But it originally was invented by the Haya people in what is present day Tanzania. It was created around 100 AD, centuries before it was made in Central Europe. Archeologist Peter Schmidt was credited for discovering this through a combination of archaeology and oral tradition. Oral tradition held that the Haya had been forging steel for about 2000 years. There was a tree that was said to sit on the spot of an ancestral furnace used to forge steel and a group of elders were later tasked to recreate the forges. They were the ones who held the knowledge of the practice, which was no longer in use partly due to the steel coming into the country from foreign sources. The elders created a furnace using mud and grass, which when burned yielded enough carbon to convert the iron into steel. Further exploration of the land led to the discovery of 13 other furnaces similar to the one the elders had recreated.


The hippo water roller is a rather simple idea with life-altering results. The device, a re-imagined wheelbarrow, carries 90 liters (24 gallons) of clean water and is pushed rather than carried. Invented in 1991 by two South Africans, Mr. Petite Petzer and Johan Jonker, the device has allowed thousands of people worldwide to have access to safe, clean water. It is exclusively manufactured and distributed worldwide by Imvubu Projects trading as the Hippo Water Roller Project. Currently, 60,000 Hippo rollers have been distributed in 51 countries benefiting 600,000 people. The durable rollers provide a much easier and efficient method of collecting water, empowering children, women and the elderly who no longer have to bear heavy loads on their backs.


The Cat Scan is commonly used throughout the world in the medical field. Odds are that you may have been in one before. Well the technology behind this incredible invention was invented by South African Allan Cormack. While working at a hospital he was asked to find a way to measure how much X-ray energy was absorbed by different parts of the body. He figured that by making an X-ray map of the body, the map would show which tissues and other materials were where by shooting X-rays through the body from many different angles. Then he would use triangulation to get a high-definition image of any given cross-section. Cormack worked out a mathematical formula to compile an accurate image from the readings made by X-rays criss-crossing the body from different directions. He successfully tested and refined his work and then published a series of papers of his findings in the 1960s, leaving it up to the engineers.


While we’re in the medical field let us take a look at the cardiopad invented by Cameroonian entrepreneur Marc Arthur. The Cardiopad was the very first touch screen medical tablet to be invented and made in Africa. It’s a tablet that is used for heart examination. The unique quality of the gadget is that it allows exams like electrocardiograms to be conducted in rural and inaccessible locations. For example when a patient in a rural area is undergoing an examination, the electrodes are placed on the patient, connected to the model which is connected to the tablet. The results can be transmitted from the nurse’s tablet to the doctor’s who then interprets them. This allows for patients to get an early diagnosis where previously they would have had to travel to urban areas to receive the service.


Sign-IO has the potential to revolutionize communication for sign language speakers. The invention comes out of Kenya by Roy Allela and essentially translates sign language into speech in real time. This is done by wearing a glove with hardware that can detect hand movements. The glove is connected to an app which conducts the translations using an internal database based on the American Sign Language (ASL). Users can set tempo, pitch, and gender of the voice that represents them. The idea is to make communication easier for ASL speakers to navigate in a world that mostly does not understand sign language.

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