South Africa is lagging far behind the developed world when it comes to broadband services and general access to technology. This has a direct impact on technology innovations in the country, but despite this South Africans have produced some of the world’s greatest inventions.
The country which has given the world icons such as Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Chris Barnard, Gary Player, Charlize Theron, and Lucas Radebe (and of course Naas Botha, and Riaan Cruywagen) has also provided the world with many technology innovations.
South African born Mark Shuttleworth (Thawte and Canonical), and Elon Musk (Paypal and Tesla motors) are well known for both their technology innovations and their space explorations. Musk’s SpaceX recently became the first privately developed and owned spacecraft to dock with the International Space Station.
Shuttleworth and Musk are well known international tech celebrities, but there are many other inventions which came from South Africa which are used globally. Here are some of the lesser known inventions.
Anybody who has visited harbours around the world would have seen large concrete blocks with a complex geometric shape, used to protect hardbour walls. These large concrete blocks, known as dolosse (plural) or a dolos (singular), were invented by South African Eric Mowbray Merrifield in 1963, and are used around the world to protect harbour walls from the erosive force of ocean waves.
The Kreepy Krauly is an automated swimming pool cleaner which collects dirt from swimming pools and hence keeps your pool clean with minimal work. South Africa’s Ferdinand Chauvier is credited with the invention of the Kreepy Krauly swimming pool vacuum cleaner in 1974.
The world famous Pratley Putty was invented by George Pratley, a South African engineer who developed innovative products for the mining sector. Pratley invented his famous putty in the sixties while looking for glue that would hold components in an electrical box.
The Tellurometer, the first successful microwave electronic distance measurement equipment, was invented by Dr. Trevor Lloyd Wadley from the South African Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). This invention revolutionized map making because it could accurately measure long distances (up to 50km).
CyberTracker is used to track animals, birds, insects and other creatures by using a satellite navigational system. This technology was developed by physicist Louis Liebenberg and computer scientist Lindsay Steventon in 1996.
Mxit, the most popular Instant Message (IM) platform in South Africa, was started by Herman Heunis from Stellenbosch. Mxit was developed because of the high cost of SMSs in South Africa, and the need to make it cheap for users to send mobile text messages to each other across mobile data networks. Mxit was officially born in 2006, and is now used by millions of users in 120 countries.
Quiet cellular antenna technology
Two South Africans have given their home country a boost with its Square Kilometre Array (SKA) plans by inventing cellular antenna technology which reduces “noisy” emissions from cellular base stations in the area. Dr. Gordon Mayhew-Ridgers and Paul van Jaarsveld developed an antenna based on phased-array principles, providing omnidirectional coverage but also blocking the RF transmissions along a single direction (that would correspond with the bearing of the SKA core site).
The antenna has been tested in the Karoo and performs extremely well. Trialling measurements have shown that the RF signal levels at the proposed SKA core site can be reduced significantly, while at the same time, much of the original GSM coverage can be retained.
Cheaper solar power
An invention in solar power by Professor Vivian Alberts at the University of Johannesburg, which uses a micro-thin metallic film, has made solar electricity five times less expensive than solar photovoltaic cells. For the first time, solar electricity is economically feasible and cheaper than coal.
There are many more great inventions from South Africans, which include a power-free foetal heart monitor, X-Ray computed tomography, sheffel bogie, and the cryprobe.