Data collection is a catalyst for innovation. Without data, it’s impossible to make data-driven decisions or improvements, which leads to inefficiencies—or worse.
Lauri Elliott, the founder of the Raleigh-based startup Datos, noticed that many of the most impoverished regions in Africa were rich in natural resources, but also saw how remote and rural they were. They lacked broadband access and robust infrastructure to collect data on their natural resources.
So with Datos, Elliott—who is the startup’s CEO (“Chief Enterprising Officer”)—aims to catalyze economic development in remote and rural regions in Africa through providing robust data collection infrastructure.
Datos is developing a Distributed Data Ecosystem (DDE) called Spherio that includes physical and digital infrastructure to increase data-collection capabilities in rural and remote regions that lack broadband access. Spherio will launch in phases starting in the spring of 2022 in the gold-mining region of Birnan Gwari in Kaduna, Nigeria.
Datos is currently participating in the ninth cohort of the RIoT Accelerator Program (RAP).
The Spherio DDE will cover three artisanal mining production sites near Birnan Gwari, as well as parts of the municipality of Birnan Gwari and some surrounding villages near the production sites.
The production sites are more than 10 kilometers away from the municipality and lack broadband and internet access, but Spherio will cover a radius of up to 25km and enable communication between production sites and nearby stakeholders, communities and municipalities. The DDE will also be self-contained, meaning it can operate without internet access.
The DDE also enables multimedia and video-sharing. So if a miner gets hurt, for instance, they can send a video to a doctor to get a consultation so the doctor doesn’t have to leave their regular practice and go all the way out to the mining site, Elliott said.
“Going from a text-based operation to a multitude-of-media operation not only enhances business, but also enhances well-being,” Elliott said.
Spherio’s IoT devices will collect a wide range of environmental data on production sites, such as tracking the flow of minerals to ensure that toxic materials from mines are not reaching nearby farm fields or water sources.
Through robust data collection, the goal is to empower surrounding communities and stakeholders to make data-driven decisions that improve well-being. Also, by providing data on the granular level of operations, Spherio enables economic development by empowering local communities to improve the value of their natural resources and reap the economic benefits, Elliott said.
“The granular, context-specific, and high-fidelity data we are able to acquire drives improvements in efficiency and productivity, provides insights for business decisions for the producers, and serves as inputs needed for socioeconomic project development,” Elliott said. “The data not only serves as input to drive development, but itself becomes a revenue stream.”
Datos’ local office is currently located in Raleigh Founded but the team of 10 is scattered throughout Africa doing field operations, with an operations hub in South Africa. Datos is preparing to install Spherio by the end of 2022 for cashew farmers in Guinea Bissau and Nigeria, gold and battery mineral miners in the Democratic Republic of Congo, miners in Zimbabwe and miners and farmers in South Africa.
Birnan Gwari will be the first site they will launch at, and this summer Datos began preparing for their launch by partnering with the Federal Ministry of Mines in Nigeria to register and license the miners, Elliott said. The physical broadband network and data center will be installed by April 2022, and later the Spherio platform will expand to serve small-scale producers of other kinds in Birnan Gwari, like agricultural farmers.
Triangle visit from top South African official
For the Birnan Gwari project, Datos partnered with CSIR, a research institution in South Africa that is a leading broadband expert for rural development in developing countries. On Nov. 12, South Africa’s Consul General in New York, Dr. Motumisi Tawana, will visit Datos in Raleigh, tour the Triangle’s innovation cluster, and explore ways to further partnerships between South Africa’s innovation clusters and the Triangle, Elliott said.
Datos is installing the Spherio infrastructure for free in Birnan Gwari, but Elliott said the vision is for there to be an installment charge for many future potential customers—such as development organizations like the World Bank or International Finance Corporation (IFC).
Datos plans to make revenue from the Birnan Gwari project by providing the data infrastructure to help the producers make data-driven improvements that increase the economic value of their natural resources and subsequent profit. Elliot said that the startup’s business model is different from other data management solutions because Datos employs a “multi-stakeholder approach,” meaning stakeholders are co-stewards in how the data is managed and shared, and are drivers of Spherio’s implementation.
“We already know what results from people being disconnected: a lack of opportunity, empowerment, knowledge,” Elliott said. “It’s a huge problem to a large percentage of the world, even in the United States. Disconnected communities are marginalized from opportunities. So by giving them connectivity and capacity-building and the infrastructure to participate, they’re tapping into opportunities. And then we are actually able to create a more inclusive society.”