Inventing the South African biometric wheel

Inventing the South African biometric wheel

Can South African techno-entrepreneurs become serious value-add contributors at hitherto unexplored scientific levels? Software and algorithmic development projects currently on the go suggest that they can. And at least one innovation company is on the verge of delivering the proof. Report by Tom Nevin.

“South African engineering science has the intellectual capacity to transform our industrial and commercial landscape in vital, interesting and rewarding ways,” says Michelle Immelman, senior project manager at Johannesburg University’s Resolution Circle. 

The company, owned by the University of Johannesburg, is a gathering of engineers, technologists and scientists under the leadership of Professor Willem Clarke, CEO of Resolution Circle. 

“We’re all about alternative thinking, and multi-directional approaches in innovation and problem solving,” says Professor Clarke. “Our goal is to achieve new and powerful made-in-South Africa outcomes.”

“The algorithms we engineer and re-engineer are not exactly ‘eureka moments’ because the technology has been around for a while,” says Immelman. “They should rather be seen as innovations that move beneficiation in South Africa to higher scientific levels. Particular algorithm homogenising involve South African clients whose companies are domestically or internationally active wanting us to re-engineer the algorithm that drives their process systems in ways that would make it their own intellectual property.”

As a result, and in terms of the brief, Resolution Circle engineers rewrite the algorithmic software to client specifications. This could save the often high costs the client pays in licensing and other user fees. In South Africa pockets of such research and application are rising in universities and other scientific development institutions with domestically written high-technology software that is uniquely localising intellectual property.

“Image processing and biometrics, for example, are being seen as the big next things in engineering science,” observes Immelman. “They will change the way we live. We need to own the intellectual aspects.” 

“We have the skills at Resolution Circle to produce algorithms that translate into sophisticated biometric products including robotics and other automation,” says Prof Clarke. “We have the ability, through our resources, to undertake projects that require such complex technology.”

As Immelman points out, “It’s not as if we are developing revolutionary new products in every case, but we are inventing the South African biometric wheel by creating algorithmic software in South Africa for South African clients that allows them proprietary use of such products and avoids costly licensing and leasing fees. We develop the algorithms around which systems are created in further software and then hardware terms.

“So far,” she adds, “rewriting the maths is the extent of our involvement in the current projects. This entails developing the algorithm, porting it into a computerised language and handing over an executable file to the client. It’s a process that can take up to a year to fulfil. On delivery they will integrate it into their software for display through their hardware or in conjunction with it. The software is our deliverable and the client will take intellectual property ownership of it.”

The Resolution Circle developers must also research the market place to ensure that they have not infringed upon the intellectual property of other systems.

“The client does not want any licensed third-party software in his system, so anything Resolution Circle would use would either be developed from scratch,” notes Immelman, “or we could make use of open source, free-to-use algorithm components. In any case, before presentation we would conduct a search to ensure that our development does not infringe any existing algorithm patent.”


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Written by Tom Nevin

Tom Nevin is a South African journalist, researcher and author and contributes to a selection of publications in South Africa and abroad. He is associate editor of London-based African Business and editor of Business Word Botswana. He is leading a programme that actively promotes small and micro power projects as a first step in encouraging the economic upliftment of the continent rural poor.

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