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Varsity don designs system that will tell TV stations when you change channels

Two local universities feature in the latest journal of the Kenya Industrial Property Institute (Kipi) as they seek to patent ideas that may change Kenya’s communication scene.

The Technical University of Kenya (TUK) wants to patent an idea that will enable TV stations to automatically monitor and count those watching their programmes while the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) plans to patent a concept that will incorporate electronic verification of customers’ identity cards into mobile money transactions.

TV CHANNELS

The TUK idea was developed by Dr Winston Ojenge, a computer science expert with an interest in artificial intelligence and machine learning based at the university’s Department of Computational Science and Engineering.

If it is actualised, his idea will see companies that make set-top boxes and digital televisions have technology that can detect every change of a channel by a viewer.

“I’d noted over time that media companies give ratings to TV programmes based on their following,” Dr Ojenge told the Sunday Nation.

“There is no return channel (for TV companies). If I get into a programme and I don’t like it and I switch off or I change channels, the (station owners) don’t know. Yet it is important that they know so that they are able to tell and then adjust.”

The methods of gauging the following of stations and programmes, he said, are based on surveys, which have limitations.

“People can lie. People can tell you anything. So, I was looking for an automated way that makes it possible for a broadcaster to collectively tell whether their channel is good and basically how many people within which geographical regions find their channels or programmes popular,” he said.

THE SOFTWARE

It is an idea that struck him as far back as 2012, two years before Kenyan TV transmission went digital. He actually wanted to study the issue of ratings measurement for his PhD project but chose a different route because material initially available could not “sustain a study at PhD”.

He has researched far and wide and has found out that in Australia, there were efforts to gauge what people were watching but they involved placing a sensor behind TV sets.

“The sensor would take that data to a wireless transmitter; to tell them which channels you are tuned to. But try to imagine there are millions of people in the country. How would you place a sensor in every household? It would be difficult,” he said.

His concept involves creating software that can enable communication between a TV station an individual signal receiver.

“The way they are sending programmes to people’s TV sets, they would send a small programme on the air. And the programme will go into the TV and embed itself. Once it embeds itself, it will now be monitoring how I keep on tuning my TV. If I change from NTV to maybe KTN, it detects and it has the ability to transmit,” he said.

MONEY TRANSFER

So far, he has created a design of the system and the theory of its operation. This is what was sent to Kipi. By publication in the May journal, the idea will now be subject to scrutiny from the public before it moves to the next stages.

The Economic Survey 2020 says that by the end of 2019, there were 4.7 million TV set-top boxes in use among Kenyans, and that there were 146 digital TV stations by December last year.

The JKUAT idea was developed by Victor Muthembwa and John Mbithi. It is called a mobile money transfer customer verification system and if it sails through, it will see mobile money transfer agents have ID scanning devices.

“In one embodiment, the invention discloses a registration process that involves capturing of a photographic image of the user’s national identity card or passport in addition to personal information and biometric data,” says the journal.

The devices used by agents, the concept says, will have stored images that will be used to verify users before transactions are okayed.

The journal states that the innovation also details the methods of executing registration, deposit and withdrawal of funds based on identity verification of the ID or passport.