An Innovative Ghana-Diaspora IT Initiative, With Embedded Systems

Globally, the broader information technology market reached 3.5 trillion U.S. dollars in 2017, with IT services spending representing more than a quarter of the total market.

www.statistica.com/statistics/203291/global-it-services-spending-forecast/

Information and communication technologies( ICTs) have the potential to transform business and government in Africa, driving entrepreneurship, innovation and economic growth. A new World Bank report explores growing contribution of ICTs to Agriculture, Climate Change Adaptation, Education, Financial Services, Government Services and Health, as well as Africa’s need to build a competitive IT industry to promote innovation, job creation, and the export potential of African companies.…..a World Bank and African Development Bank Report ( www.siteresources.worldbank.org )

It is Saturday evening, October 14, 2017. My family and I are at a Wedding Reception for a niece in a Boston suburb, in Massachusetts. A great party atmosphere is keeping us all happily occupied. Suddenly, a family friend hands me some mysterious looking 3-page report. It’s the printout of an email message and proposal. He has just received it from a trusted professional acquaintance, an academician, at the University of Cape Coast(UCC), Ghana.

What could it be?… Professor Kwamena Panford, Professor of Geography at Northeastern University, Boston, Massachusetts, had had the email forwarded to him by Professor Jojo Eghan of the Physics Department, UCC, Cape Coast, Ghana. The Physics Department of UCC was developing a state-of-the art “Microcontroller Laboratory”. Such a laboratory would enable students to do more hands-on practical design projects containing microcontrollers. Students would take advantage of more up-to-date digital and Information Technology (IT) techniques for their research and final year capstone courses. The two quotations in italics at the top of the this page points out how huge the global market in IT is, and the need for Africa to be a player in the IT market.

With the experience and skills gained from such a laboratory, graduates from the Department would go out to the job arena in Ghana, highly employable. They would be equipped to start their own small companies. They would create, in Ghana, electronics products of the digital age, incorporating both hardware and software. These would include simple but important digital instruments needed in factories as test and monitoring instruments. Their skills would spur the rapid growth of Ghana’s agro-processing industry. Graduates could produce simple instruments for patient monitoring in hospitals and clinics, as well as weather monitoring equipment. Microprocessor-based products comprise both hardware and software. So, students’ expertise in software even by itself could usher in a huge growth industry in software products outsourcing in Ghana. And Ghana could be a significant player in the global software outsourcing market!

UCC colleagues had generated a comprehensive list of state-of-the-art electronics hardware devices, parts, software and laboratory prototyping and monitoring equipment. With that email message and report, UCC Physics Department was apparently making enquiries about any help, in terms of equipment, parts, devices and software, which could be donated by interested collaborators in the Diaspora, as well as from any interested U.S. technology companies.

I had met some of the UCC Physics Department’s Lecturers and Professors some three years earlier. During a summer visit to Cape Coast, I had had the privilege of spending several days on the campus. We had discussed possibilities of periodic collaborative arrangements, and mutually beneficial interactions. So their new proposal to develop a modern “Microcontroller Laboratory” seemed like a good fit. Modern Laboratories are very much needed in Ghanaian educational institutions. Such laboratories could inject more practical and entrepreneurial know-how into their science, technology and IT curricula. The laboratories would enhance the teaching and learning mission, and produce graduates with the needed marketable and employable skills.

And so, when I got back to my station in California, in late October, 2017, I put the word out to some Ghanaian friends in the U.S. Fellow Diasporans, as it were. Two of them are fellow High School alumni from my Alma Mater, Adisadel College, Cape Coast, Ghana. The third, also attended a High School in Cape Coast( St Augustine’s College). All three provided cash and in-kind donations towards the purchase and delivery of the package that we eventually delivered to UCC in Cape Coast, in the form of two delivery batches, during December 2017 and January 2018. They are very familiar with the city of Cape Coast, and were impressed with the kind of science and technology strides UCC was making. We were able to put together a partial but significant list of some of the pieces of equipment and devices, in the form of a “donation package” to help start the UCC embedded systems laboratory project.

The Donor Partners: The following joined me to put together the donation package.

Mr. Ambrose Mercer, Rev. Dr. Joseph D. Awotwi , and Mr. Kofi Kutu Gyan. In fact, the group went the extra mile. In December 2017, during Mr. Kofi Kutu Gyan’s visit to Ghana, he carried a bulky package, as part of his air travel luggage, made a special trip to UCC, Cape Coast, and personally delivered the first of two packages to the Head of the Physics Department at UCC, Dr. Benjamin Anderson. Then, in January 2018, Rev. Dr. Joseph Awotwi, also during a visit to Ghana from the U.S., accommodated a second package as part of his air travel luggage, and personally delivered the package to the UCC Physics Department, in Cape Coast!

Pictures of Devices, Components, Instruments and Text Books Acquired for Donation:

Please see Figures 1 thru 3, shown at the end of this paper, for the pictures.

Key Academic/Admin Contacts at the UCC Physics Dept. & School of Physical Sciences.

Key Academic/Administrative contacts who have been communicating with us as liaisons have been: Dr. Benjamin Anderson( Head of Physics), Prof. Moses Jojo Eghan, Prof. David K. Essumang( Dean, School of Physical Sciences).

Other academic members who have been part of the communication link are shown here, in the email recipient list below:

What is a Microcontroller, and an Embedded System?

A microcontroller is a single electronic, semiconductor device (chip) which has a complete computer (processor, memory and input/output elements) built into it. Nowadays, microcontrollers are routinely built into equipment and devices that are part of our day-to-day life. For example, almost all the automobile engine control systems, implantable medical devices, remote control devices, office machines, home and industrial appliances, power tools, toys, mobile phones, communication systems and handheld devices are all built around microcontrollers. Microcontrollers are said to be ‘embedded’ in these systems. Such systems are referred to as ‘Embedded Systems”, and the lab is designated as “Embedded Systems Laboratory”

What Students Will Gain from an Embedded Systems Lab.

Applied Physics and Engineering Programs interested in preparing students for post-graduation technical practice and entrepreneurship in modern electronics, must have an Embedded Systems Lab. In the current electronics environment, devices and parts are very miniaturized and highly integrated. Studenst will learn to develop many important electronics applications. A small microcontroller circuit board such as the ARM boards( “ARM” is acronym for “Advanced RISC Machines”, an ‘efficient’ processor designed as a Reduced Instruction Set Computer), when programmed, can readily be packaged into some small container. Some of the very easily implemented applications of microcontrollers are:

  1. Connect an inexpensive temperature sensor, and you have a digital thermometer.
  2. Connect some simple load cell and you have a digital weighing system(Post Office, Supermarkets).
  3. Connect a pressure sensor, and you have a portable Pressure Monitor.
  4. All kinds of digital instruments are easily designed and fabricated.
  5. Connect small motors and you can do automatic control and robotic applications.

The Microcontroller is easily configured to create simple audio projects, equalizers, spectral extraction, frequency counters. Meteorological instrumentation….wind speed, solar energy research, humidity measurement, agriculture research are made amazingly easy.

Embedded Systems Lab Experience Will Transform the Ghanaian Economy

Ghana’s Applied Science and electronics engineering graduates will be equipped to develop engineering start-up companies. They can easily build all kinds of simple instruments for appliance control, communications, digital audio. Multiple units of such circuits can be produced rapidly for the Ghanaian and West African markets. Between Ghana and Nigeria alone, tremendous amount of home, commercial, office, and industrial applications can be developed for sale. Industrialization will take off like a rocket in Ghana, pioneered by such University graduates.

From the Diaspora( California), we sent two batches of equipment package to the Physics Department at UCC, Cape Coast, Ghana.

First Batch of Embedded Systems Materials SHIPPED

Date Shipped: Monday, December 4, 2017, from Chico, Calif., by A.O. Ebo Richardson.

  1. Initial Destination: To Mr. Kofi K. Gyan, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor , U.S.A.
  2. Final Destination: Cape Coast University, Ghana
  3. Arrival Date in Cape Coast University, Ghana: December 24, 2017
  4. Person From U.S. Delivering the package, in person, to Cape Coast University: Mr. Kofi K. Gyan
  5. Materials Shipped:
  1. Two(2) ARM-Cortex Microcontroller Boards
  2. One(1) General Purpose Digital Multimeter
  3. One(1) Precision Digital Multimeter
  4. Two(2) Textbooks….” Introduction to ARM Cortex-M Microc: Embedded Systems…”
  5. One(1) Textbook—-“Real-Time Interfacing to ARM Cortex –M Microc: Embedded Systems”
  6. Manufacturer’s Reference Guides.

Second Batch of Embedded Systems Materials SHIPPED

Date Shipped: January 10, from Chico, California, By A. O. Ebo Richardson

  1. Initial Destination: To Rev. Dr. Joseph D. Awotwi; Alexandria, Louisiana, U.S.A.
  2. Final Destination: Cape Coast University, Ghana
  3. Arrival Date in Cape Coast University, Ghana: January 30, 2018
  4. Person From U.S. Delivering package, in person, to Cape Coast Univ.: Rev. Dr. J.D. Awotwi
  5. Materials Shipped:
  1. Seven(7) ARM-Cortex Microcontroller Boards
  2. Eight(8) General Purpose Digital Multimeters
  3. Four(4) Precision Digital Multimeters
  4. Two(2) Textbooks….” Introduction to ARM Cortex-M Microc: Embedded Systems…”
  5. One(1) Textbook—-“Real-Time Interfacing to ARM Cortex –M Microc: Embedded Systems”
  6. One(1) Textbook—-“ Digital Design….”

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Figure 1. Embedded System Collection Before Shipment to UCC.

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Figure 2 One Lab Station: ARM Cortex –Based Embedded System Development

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Figure 3 Embedded Systems Textbooks for UCC
Albert O. Ebo Richardson, Ph.D. April 14, 2018

Emeritus Professor, Electrical & Comp. Engineering

California State University.

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