Fostering Social Impact: Dr. Dembele’s Impactful Visit to Sunbird AI

Fostering Social Impact: Dr. Dembele's Impactful Visit to Sunbird AI

Dr. Embele and Dr. Mwebaze posing at the Sunbird offices

Dr. Dembele, an esteemed Associate Professor of Computer Science at Gaston Berger University, Senegal, embarked on a momentous journey to visit Sunbird AI, driven by a prestigious US-AFRICA Frontiers Fellowship a program that convenes outstanding scientists, engineers, and medical professionals from the United States and the member countries of the African Union for a series of symposia to enhance the scientific exchange and dialogue among young researchers in African countries and the United States.

Dr. Dembele, possessing expertise in Artificial Intelligence, machine learning, and modeling, embarked on a mission to establish an alliance between his team and Sunbird AI. This collaboration aimed to explore joint initiatives that could catalyze substantial social impact across Africa. It is key to note, Dr. Dembele is the Principal Investigator of the ongoing ‘Deep4EnvMonitoring’ project, focusing on Deep Learning and Drone imagery for environment management, particularly monitoring illicit landfills, Dr. Dembele’s aspiration for feedback from proven projects with social acceptance and impact underscores the imperative of informed and impactful implementation.

Together with Dr. Ernest Mwebaze, Sunbird AI’s executive director, they delved into the vast potential of AI to address societal challenges specific to the African context. “ As we exchanged ideas and discussed our respective domains of interest, it became evident that promoting AI for social impact was a common goal that resonated deeply with both of us” shared Dr. Dembele.

A key point emphasized by Dr. Dembele was the urgent need to train more students, professionals, and AI enthusiasts within Africa. By cultivating a critical mass of skilled AI designers, the technology would become more accessible to tackle real-world problems faced by the continent. But training alone was not enough; it was equally important to ensure that the AI models and solutions were tailored to fit Africa’s diverse cultural, social, and anthropological demands. This adaptation would be crucial to the successful implementation of AI projects that genuinely benefit African populations.

Dr. Ernest Mwebaze, Executive Director of Sunbird AI, shared a similar vision and welcomed the idea of becoming one of Dr. Dembele’s main collaborators. The potential for mutual growth was undeniable, and both parties envisioned running visiting programs and engaging in joint projects to amplify their impact. Together, they aimed to foster an environment where innovative ideas could flourish, leading to solutions that address pressing societal challenges.

During his visit, Dr. Dembele outlined a focused agenda that reflected his passion for making a lasting impact. The creation of a framework for deploying AI projects with social acceptance and impact became a priority. Such a framework would not only ensure the effective implementation of AI solutions but also foster trust and understanding among the communities they aimed to serve.

In conclusion, Dr. Dembele’s visit to Sunbird AI was a momentous event that left an indelible mark on both parties. The coming together of two exceptional minds, driven by a shared passion for leveraging AI for social impact, ignited a spark of innovation that will continue to illuminate the path ahead. As they chart new territories in AI research, education, and deployment, their commitment to uplifting African communities remains unwavering. The journey of social transformation through AI has just begun


Sunbird AI 2022 Annual Report

Sunbird AI 2022 Annual Report

The year 2022 demonstrated the power of adaptation, collaboration, and the unwavering pursuit of our mission: to harness the potential of artificial intelligence for the betterment of African communities. 

In this report, we not only showcase our accomplishments but also delve into the thought processes, collaborations, and innovations that underpin our endeavors. We invite you to explore the projects that have taken shape against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, the strides we have made in AI language technology for local languages, and our overarching commitment to empower voices and catalyze change.

The Sunbird AI 2022 Annual Report is a testament to the transformative potential of AI, and our collective dedication to creating a future where technology serves the holistic development of African societies. Through this report, we aim to provide insights, reflections, and a glimpse into the possibilities that lie ahead on our ongoing journey to shape a more inclusive, empowered, and connected continent.

Thank you for your continued support, and we invite you to join us in celebrating the achievements, milestones, and the impact of Sunbird AI in the year 2022. Download the Sunbird AI 2022 report here.

The Feedback Revolution: Sunbird AI and SEMA’s AI-Driven Speech Option for Citizens

The Feedback Revolution: Sunbird AI and SEMA's AI-Driven Speech Option for Citizens

Enhancing Public Feedback at Kisugu Health Centre with SEMA's Voice-Enabled Service Delivery Device, Powered by Sunbird AI

In a complementary partnership that commenced in 2022, Sunbird AI and SEMA have set the wheels in motion to transform the way citizens provide feedback on their experiences at public institutions. SEMA’s mission, to offer a quick and easy way for citizens to voice their opinions, has been enhanced by Sunbird AI through the use of artificial intelligence. By collaborating with Sunbird AI, SEMA has expanded the functionality of its feedback devices, enabling citizens to provide feedback through voice. This development allows citizens to share their experiences effortlessly, making their voices heard in their language of choice. With the seamless integration of cutting-edge speech-to-text and machine translation technology, the Sunbird AI and SEMA collaboration is setting a new standard for efficient,insightful and inclusive citizen feedback.

Visual Representation: Demonstrating the Speech Option in the Feedback Device

Building on the success of their existing feedback devices, SEMA and Sunbird AI have taken citizen engagement to another level. The recent expansion of the feedback devices now allows citizens to provide feedback through voice. When individuals choose to share their experiences vocally, they have 15 seconds to express their thoughts in their language of choice. The team at Sunbird AI has designed the devices to accommodate multilingual feedback, ensuring that language barriers never hinder the citizens’ ability to express their opinions.

With a simple tap on the feedback devices, citizens can share their latest experiences at various public institutions. To facilitate the efficient processing of citizens’ feedback, all the voice feedback collected  throughout the day is uploaded to a dashboard developed by the Sunbird AI team. Here comes the real magic: if feedback is shared in a local language, Sunbird AI’s translation system translates it into English, ensuring a comprehensive understanding of the citizens’ experiences. The next step involves the machine learning model, which keenly listens for keywords like “good” or “bad” and assigns a percentage to each keyword. This AI analysis empowers the SEMA team to review citizen experiences with unparalleled accuracy and efficiency. Joel Muhanguzi, our Embedded Systems Engineer leading this project said “The integration of speech feedback into SEMA’s devices was an exciting challenge for our team. We had to design robust language translation models and implement accurate sentiment analysis to ensure we capture the essence of each user’s feedback. Witnessing the positive impact it has on citizens motivates us to push the boundaries of AI for social good.”

Sunbird's Embedded Systems Engineer, Joel Muhanguzi, and SEMA's Technology Manager, Calvin Karegyeya, showcasing the voice-operated feedback device to a Kisugu Health Centre doctor

SEMA’s Technology Manager, Calvin Karegyeya shares, “ The integration of voice feedback into the SEMA device brings the advantage of enabling clients to provide elaborate feedback on their experience with the service. By utilizing voice recordings, clients can express their thoughts, opinions, and suggestions in a more detailed and personalized manner. This richer form of feedback can provide valuable insights enabling service providers to better understand their needs and expectations, address issues more effectively, and continuously improve the quality of their services based on direct client input.”

By deploying the improved feedback devices at Kiswa and Kisugu health centers, the Sunbird AI and SEMA partnership has sparked enthusiasm and excitement among both citizens and public officials. Citizens appreciate the ease of providing feedback in their preferred language, making the process more inclusive and accessible. As this remarkable journey unfolds, we can look forward to more transformative innovations from Sunbird AI and SEMA, working hand in hand to build a brighter future for citizen engagement and public service excellence.

Bridging the linguistic divide: Inclusivity through AI translation in Uganda

Bridging the linguistic divide: Inclusivity through AI translation in Uganda

Language barriers can be a significant challenge for individuals and communities, particularly in situations where clear communication is essential. In a linguistically diverse country like Uganda where over 40 local languages are spoken across the country, language barriers pose a daily challenge. This is especially true in situations such as accessing services in government facilities, being displaced by emergencies, or carrying out projects, surveys, or business.

Imagine being in a hospital or government office and not being able to understand the signs and forms, and not knowing how to ask anyone for help. Language technology promises new ways of addressing communication barriers and accelerating access to information and services in the digital era for citizens and decision makers. However, language technology for African languages remains largely underdeveloped and thus the potential of these new technologies is barely harnessed in our contexts. African languages are generally termed ‘low-resourced language’ in the AI space because of the limited amount of language datasets available from which to develop machine learning models for translation and entity recognition. In 2020, with support from the Hewlett Foundation, Sunbird AI commenced the African language technology project. We created the largest ever multilingual parallel text dataset of Ugandan languages, with translations in Acholi, Ateso, Luganda, Lugbara and Runyankole.

Much of the work in developing new language technology is in collecting training data. Researchers have studied the harms that can come from indiscriminately using text from the internet to train models: it can result in systems which are biased, offensive or harmful. We set out to collect data from scratch in five local languages as well as English, across a set of topics of local importance (e.g. health, agriculture, society). We worked with the Makerere University AI Lab in collecting 25,000 sentences translated across all languages, which is available as the Sunbird AI Language Translation (SALT) dataset.

Real-time translation with Sunbird system

Text translation can help with many kinds of practical situations. For individuals, translation can help while travelling, or for coordinating business, finding out the news, learning a language, or interacting with authorities. We are especially interested in how it can help organisations, though. For example, government departments can use translation to make their information more accessible to more people; development initiatives can analyse feedback from their target beneficiaries in their preferred languages.

It can also be useful for understanding citizens’ opinions on policy and service delivery. During the COVID pandemic, the public health emergency required new measures and policies to be put in place all over the world that changed the way we worked, studied and lived. These “standard operating procedures” (SOPs) had a great effect on the lives of Ugandans. We worked with the National COVID-19 Task Force to understand these effects. In particular, how these new measures and policies aimed at controlling the spread of COVID-19 affect people in Uganda. How did the people react when the SOPs were put in place and what were the emerging issues from the public that needed to be prioritised by the government? Our team looked at insights from social media about the practical measures that the Ugandan government was putting in place. It became clear that much of the most useful information is in local languages, which have little or no NLP or translation support.

Text to Speech Version.
Speech technology is important because local languages are more often spoken rather than written. It’s common for somebody to be able to speak a language but not to be able to read or write in it. Text-to-speech (TTS) models are normally trained by having a voice actor in a studio make recordings of sentences. Sunbird AI has been able to train Luganda TTS in a new way, using crowdsourced data from Common Voice. The model was trained using the voices of hundreds of individuals. This is to our knowledge the only existing TTS model for any Ugandan language, and is freely and openly available.

Our resources are available for you to use;
Live translation system:
Technical report with the details of collecting text data and training translation models.
SALT dataset for training and evaluation translation models.
Open source models for translation and speech generation.


Sunbird AI partners with MOICT & NG to tackle language barriers.

Sunbird AI partners with MOICT& NG to tackle language barrier

Permanent Secretary of MOICT & NG, Hon. Aminah Zawedde and Executive Director Sunbird AI, Dr. Ernest Mwebaze after signing MoU

This year, Sunbird AI is keen on joining hands with other like-minded entities to ensure the usage, uptake and scaling of practical AI systems is realized for social good. We kicked off this partnership journey on 23rd Jan by signing an MoU with the Ministry of ICT and National Guidance.

The translation system developed by Sunbird AI will support the MOICT and NG in the communication of government programs across the country where over 50 languages are spoken. “As a government we are responsible for communicating up to the last person. Today I’m communicating in English but someone out there might not be able to understand yet they are Ugandan.” Dr. Aminah Zawedde, Permanent Secretary of the MOICT & NG shared. 

Notedly, there are risks to naively importing technologies (and technology policy) to Uganda which were developed without the ownership of the communities that will be affected by them, and may not be compatible with the local context and needs. AI has the potential to help Uganda leapfrog the traditional constraints of infrastructure to improve citizen’s wellbeing. The 5 year MoU is aimed at practically supporting the government under the MOICT & NG in implementing its mandate intended to adopt an ICT-led socio-economic policy for accelerated development as well as implementing Uganda’s  4th Industrial Revolution (4IR) strategy.

Software team lead Isaac Owomugisha demonstrating Sunbird's translate system for MOICT & NG team

As stated by Dr. Ernest Mwebaze, ED here at Sunbird AI, “The most recent exciting development has been Chat GPT, where they are using large language models to do automated analysis of text. That is the current level of AI, what we do at Sunbird is to see where the practical dimensions of such an innovation can be implemented. We focus on AI, practicality, social good and aiding policy by providing evidence”

This partnership stands on 3 objectives;

1. Encourage innovation by providing opportunities to create applications to support service delivery; 

2. Generate highly skilled jobs and wealth for individuals and companies that create applications for both government and the private sector; and 

3. Improve the use of government data for ICT innovation and application development. 

One key program Sunbird will support is the Parish Development Model (PDM) aimed at improving the welfare of citizens under the subsistence economy, however, the target beneficiaries largely do not speak English. The Ministry is also developing a citizen interaction portal where citizens share feedback in their preferred language. Sunbird’s translation tool can be pivotal in supporting this engagement.

Honorable Aminah Zawedde, went on to mention, “As a government, we cannot achieve all these initiatives alone, we have to pursue collaborations such as these. “I’m confident that this MoU will be productive, seeing that there is already a solid proof of concept that requires scaling.”

Here’s a recap of the MoU signing here and don’t forget to try out Sunbird translate yourself!

Group photo with members of Sunbird AI and MOICT & NG after MoU Signing

Lighting Lamwo

Lighting Lamwo

“I’m able to continue serving my customers till as late as 10pm. This extension has doubled my daily income”  shares Nancy Amito, a small restaurant owner in Palabekogilli Trading Centre, a largely refugee-populated village in Lamwo district. A good number of us can appreciate living in suburbs or urban areas that enjoy having continuous access to electricity. We might take something as simple as flipping on a switch when dusk arrives for granted but for communities such as Nancy’s this is but a luxury. 27% of Uganda’s population has access to any kind of electricity, the number drops to 10% in rural areas.. This contradicts Uganda’s renewable energy endowment and implies a lack of utilization of energy sources such as solar, wind and biomass.

To provide power to unelectrified areas, the government needs to plan how best to use the available resources. In some cases, the electricity grid is to be extended, and in others there can be alternative solutions such as solar mini-grids or solar home systems. This planning can be difficult as there is limited data on exactly how large settlements are, how much commercial activity there is in each, or whether there are schools, hospitals or administrative buildings that require power. This is where data-driven technology, for example processing satellite images, can help.

With the realization that sustainable electrification is a key factor in significantly bolstering socio-economic development, Sunbird AI is supporting the Fair Forward-AI for All project of Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (German Agency for International Cooperation – GIZ) and The Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development in implementing the National Electrification Strategy (NES) that aims at connecting 10 million households to the most optimal energy source by 2030. We developed an open data site identification system based on satellite imagery and other data sources to increase the accuracy of planning assumptions of selections for renewable energy sites and energy source options in Lamwo district.

Detailed view of the Lamwo Electrification App

The map zooms into the village center and provides a visual depiction of the building outlines as automatically detected from the Open Buildings dataset. We further analyse this to categorise types of buildings, for example permanent or non-permanent buildings. We find that the layout of a settlement and the shapes and sizes of settlements gives rich information about the requirements for electricity. It can also tell us whether solar mini-grids are feasible for each settlement, as there are constraints in how far apart buildings can be. We further analyse the demand and supply side of electrification in the selected village providing possible options of electrification and how likely they are to be suitable for the particular village. For example, we use satellite based wind speed estimates to evaluate whether wind power is feasible, and look at vegetation (outside of protected areas) to assess biomass potential.

Full view of Mini-Grids

According to Denis Ongola, an on-site electrician for Winch Energy, the mini-grids have so far been installed in 25 villages across Lamwo. These mini-grids are between 20 to 80kwh worth of energy, serving between 50 to 200 households according to a village’s needs. “Unlike before, community members are now running their businesses 24/7. Some of these businesses include millet and maize grinding mills, salons, welding and retail shops. Members even commune at newly-opened sports-centers to enjoy football matches.”

Lamwo’s LC5 Chairperson Mr. Oyet Sisto resounds his people’s preference for mini-grid connections because of their reliability as well as the on-ground presence of technicians in-case any glitches arise.

After a field visit to Lamwo, our Executive Director, Dr. Ernest Mwebaze noted the establishment of mobile money and agent banking services such as Airtel and EquiDuuka which relieves the burden of moving from one place to another in order to make simple money transactions. It was also interesting to note that as a result of the mini-grids, there’s a stronger sense of security because people no longer move in complete darkness. 

As we continue making concerted efforts towards a just energy transition powered by renewables, one thing is clear: There’s a chance to economically transform grassroot communities by leveraging AI to find clean and sustainable energy sources. 

Sunbird’s strategic partnership with Cente-tech to leverage AI for socio-economic development

Sunbird's strategic partnership with Cente-tech to leverage AI for socio-economic development

As Artificial Intelligence continues to take center-stage, we are looking forward to the strategic partnership officiated on 6th July with Centenary Technology Services, a technology company of Centenary Group that provides holistic technology solutions and delivers innovation that matters to enable and inspire growth through ICT advisory and Research; ICT Managed Services and Infrastructure; and ICT Innovation and Digital Services. 

This collaboration is aligned towards addressing challenges to equality and inclusion, through the adoption of Artificial Intelligence technology.  Speaking at the signing, Dr Grace Ssekakubo, Chief Executive Officer at Cente-Tech said, “The MOU being signed seeks to create a framework for a successful partnership between Cente-Tech & Sunbird AI to create sustainable, scalable projects and initiatives which will leverage the deep expertise of Sunbird AI to support Cente-Tech’s strategic ambitions to utilize modern ICT innovations for socio-economic development among the rural poor.”

Adding, “With the reach we have of over 20million Ugandans within the Centenary brand, we will help alleviate exclusion through the various Artificial Intelligence applications that Sunbird AI has developed and will develop through this collaboration.” Dr Ssekakubo said.

Dr. Engineer Bainomugisha, Director at Sunbird AI witnesses as , Dr. Ernest Mwebaze Executive Director at Sunbird and Dr Grace Ssekakubo, Chief Executive Officer at Cente-Tech append signatures to MOU.

According to our Executive Director, Dr. Ernest Mwebaze, “Our partnership with Centenary Technology Services aims to leverage the considerable reach of Cente-Tech to hospitals and schools by building AI for social good solutions that will positively influence the lives of not only people consuming the vast services of the Centenary group, but to all Ugandans.” 

The promise of AI-based technologies is enormous, and benefits range from efficiency gains to unprecedented improvements in quality of life, especially in driving inclusion. 


Classification of environmental noise at the DataFest Africa 2022 Hackathon

Classification of environmental noise at the DataFest Africa 2022 Hackathon

Still buzzing about our first ever chance to participate in the DataFest Africa 2022 Hackathon.

Under this year’s theme “Big Data, Little Data and everything in between ” we were glad to provide noise data sets for participants to train a classification model that classifies noise audios into various categories and even more excited about partnering with Pollicy and Zindi Africa on making this challenge come to life. But before we go further you’re probably wondering, why noise?

If you walk up to your local trading center, you’re likely to be met with a loud fusion of different sounds. Some vendors trying to sell groceries to passersby, a truck reversing, a preacher with a loudspeaker, a herbal specialist going on about the advantages of their treatments. The closer you are to the city, the louder the area. Unlike air or water pollution, there’s no immediate substantive evidence of the negative consequences the exposure to high levels of noise does to our psyche, nervous system, productivity levels and general way of life. Pollicy’s Director of Programs, Gilbert Beyamba shares, “Noise pollution, like all other forms of pollution, is an emerging environmental health hazard in African cities, with potentially complex spatial and temporal patterns. This is further challenging due to the limited local data which is a barrier to the formulation and evaluation of patterns to reduce noise pollution.”  This leaves concerned stakeholders such as city planners, engineers and policy makers with no point of reference. 

Here at Sunbird AI, we believe we could fill this gap in Uganda by developing AI-powered tools to remotely collect, test and monitor noise in order to empower enforcement institutions such as the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) and the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) with real time, accurate and contextualized data to regulate noise levels. We piloted this project in Entebbe city, installing 7 sensors across different locations. 

Our team of engineers built autonomous solar powered noise sensors that pick-up different types of noises. These noises are then assessed to know whether the levels exceed the statutory thresholds of decibels (dBs. We then share access to a public dashboard that continuously shows noise levels across Entebbe and empower community champions as well as technical officers on how to read and develop actionable plans.

Some key terms to note;

1. dB- A decibel is a unit used to measure sound pressure levels.

2. Exceedances- Total number of times noise levels go beyond a given threshold in a given area.


About the Hackathon.
The hackathon that ran from July 7th to 26th, was exclusively open to African countries lasted six weeks and with over 100 participants finding solutions on how to classify noise categories using machine learning. The first, second and third place solutions won $500, $300 and $200 respectively. Sunbird AI’s goal is to integrate parts of the winning solution into our autonomous sensors to enable classification of noise on the edge. 

It was interesting for the participants to see the realization that noise, especially in capital cities, not just in Uganda but across Africa has the potential of causing serious harm. It was good to see that participants interacted with a fairly new type of data with the winning solution managing to achieve 88% accuracy on this machine learning task. 

“It is indeed a problem that needs to be addressed. Deeper and further analysis and processing should be done on the data in order to provide more insights.” Dan Ofula, a Machine Learning Engineer and Data Scientist who emerged winner remarks. 

The second runner up Youssef FADHLOUN an Embedded Telecommunications Engineer and Data Scientist went ahead to suggest ways the new noise datasets produced can be used, “Use the data to create a database of sound levels and locations for future reference. This can be used to inform policy makers so that they can come up with measures to reduce noise pollution.” 

Zindi’s competition lead Amy Bray who was in charge of coordinating and monitoring the noise challenge on the Zindi platform shared, “You don’t think about noise pollution in Africa. Africa has noisy cities. That’s it. However this data and this challenge has shown me that it doesn’t have to be like this. Why can’t Africa have the same systems other countries have, even better, why can’t Africa have solutions created by Africans for Africa that are tailored to her needs.” Lucky for you! This data will be on the Zindi platform and other data scientists interested in this problem can look at it. This data isn’t limited to noise classification and can be used to explore sound data.

We’re hoping that the solutions shared will spur the conversation on how as Africans, we can continue leveraging better data technology to mitigate some of our most pressing challenges, more specifically, challenges that are detrimental to our wellbeing over the long term. 

Sunbird AI and ioTec Limited to provide inclusive financial services

Sunbird AI and ioTec Limited to provide inclusive financial services

We’re excited to officially embark on our partnership with ioTec Limited, a financial technology company and software consultancy firm building secure enterprise software solutions to unlock economic potential by bringing services closer to individuals and businesses through intuitive, simple, secure, and instant digital channels.

ioTec limited aims at building a customer-centric and interoperable platform to democratize access to services, strengthen service-linkages between financial service providers, manufactures and SMEs while subsidizing the high platform maintenance costs. Consequently, accelerating business growth, improving quality of life and the economy at large.

Mr. Kenneth Kwesiga, ioTec’s CEO stated; “We are particularly excited about this partnership because it is strategically aligned with our objective of advancing the financial services sector through increasing access and reach of services equitably. We strongly believe that by collaborating with Sunbird AI to apply evidence-based artificial intelligence models to existing financial services data, we are able to unveil uncharted addressable markets – particularly those regarded as un-credit worthy by conventional methods that require collateral.” 

Dr. Ernest Mwebaze, Sunbird AI’s Executive Director reflects on this partnership, “We’re definitely looking forward to synergising with ioTec limited. The commendable efforts they are making in extending financial services aligns with the work we do in building practical systems to ensure there is a clear benefit to society. At Sunbird AI, we are intent on co-creating ethically sound and inclusive solutions with our partners and this collaboration with ioTec comes right on time.” 

Find out more about the work ioTec is doing here.

Wondering how you can collaborate with Sunbird AI? Check out opportunities for collaboration here.