#AfricaMonth: Living African laboratories

As a key market and potential innovator, Africa is poised for rapid adoption, skipping generations of inherited ideas and practices to emerge as an early adopter for innovative solutions that take cognisance of the unique African context. Tapping into this market and laying down infrastructure, physical or digital, takes insider knowledge and trust on the ground.
Warren Hewitt
Adopted globally as an experimental practice for contextual product development, the ‘living lab’ enables new ideas to be tested in an active, real-world, real-time environment.

The findings can lead to open innovation in the context of cities and can result in ground-breaking ideas, products and systems. But the key to the system is the user-adoption built into the model.
Living labs enable the user community to co-create solutions, in an integrated process of managed experimentation, in which users are observed participants but also the creators of the end product.

The live development and testing process enables end users to provide real-time feedback on the performance of a product or service, and how they could adopt it into their lives.

Blockchain-based inter-modal transport payment solution


A living lab is about to take place in Cape Town’s Bellville area. The Greater Tygerberg Partnership (GTP) has signed an agreement with Iconic Blockchain in the UK, to develop a blockchain-based inter-modal transport payment solution, using Bellville as a test bed for the concept.

Successful solutions for this method could have far-reaching potential - not only for moving people but also for moving goods, making deliveries, and more.

Bellville’s existing infrastructure has all the ingredients needed to support an international living lab environment. This gives us significant opportunities to facilitate connections for teams who want to test and develop their ideas in a lively, active urban environment.

These ingredients include a multi-modal transport interchange, medical and educational facilities, financial institutions, first-world road infrastructure, and commitment from local and provincial government to grow the region.

Technology is a key driver


Technology is a key driver behind a living lab, specifically in its use as both a tool and an end product, but critically, it’s the connections that the GTP can make, that complete the circle.

We connect, facilitate, introduce, host and participate in the programme to provide a seamless introduction into the area. It’s a package that plays an important role in the success of the project.

The agreement with Iconic Blockchain is a good example of how this process could work in reality. The developers, led by Iconic Blockchain founder, Simon Ho, explore the possibility of implementing the TSio Protocol, a proprietary platform that provides commuters with a universal currency solution that can be used on multiple modes of transport.

The platform enables commuters to move seamlessly between train, taxi or bus, making it safer and more efficient to travel around on public transport.

Mellowcabs pilot


The GTP has also recently partnered with Mellowcabs, a micro-transport solution that will help people to move around Bellville more efficiently. Bellville is highly connected, with multiple public transport links. The Mellowcabs pilot will provide Bellville residents, and commuters, with a ‘last-mile’ transport solution that could enable workers to leave their cars at home, while still knowing they’ll be able to move around the centre when they’re there.

The GTP is focused on three key goals; stimulate a 24-hour economy, build physically and virtually connected communities and facilitate an urban transition to an inclusive, vibrant and economically prosperous area.


But beyond what we do, is the need to prepare the city for a rapidly advancing world. The fourth industrial revolution presents opportunities for innovation in all sectors of a city’s development.

These technological advances affect transport, logistics, building, infrastructure, employment models and trading patterns. Cities don’t have to, and, arguably, can’t, grow in governmental siloes.

They benefit from partnerships and collaborations with other entities like Iconic Blockchain, startup incubator Startup Hatchery and Mellowcabs, among others, who bring a new perspective to urban regeneration and planning. And the living lab is the perfect vehicle to take advantage of those opportunities.
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About the author

Warren Hewitt is the CEO of the Greater Tygerberg Partnership. Hewitt is the former CEO of Laser Logistics and former business development director at the Laser Group.
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