Abena AI, a voice assistant that supports the Twi language, has been making waves in Ghana since its release on the Google Play Store in April 2021.
The app was created by Nana Kwame Ghartey, a Ghanaian software developer who recognised the need for linguistic inclusivity in the technology sector.
As a child, Ghartey often communicated with his grandmother in Twi, a language spoken by millions of Ghanaians.
However, he noticed that many technology products were only available in English, excluding those who speak local languages. This inspired him to create a voice assistant that could cater to the needs of Twi speakers.
One of the biggest challenges Ghartey faced during the development of Abena AI was ensuring that the app could function offline. Internet connection in Winneba, where he lived with his grandmother, was often inconsistent, and he didn’t want users to worry about constantly having to purchase data to use the app.
To cut costs and offer offline functionality, he had to forego real-time processing from costly cloud servers.
Despite these challenges, Ghartey persisted and released Abena AI as a Mobobi product. The app includes features like checking trending news on Twitter, following weather reports, checking and recharging airtime balances, transferring money with mobile payment apps, and an in-app community feature that allows users to send messages, images, and videos to each other using voice commands.
The reception to Abena AI has been overwhelmingly positive. Users have appreciated the app’s ability to serve those with visual impairments who prefer to speak Twi, especially the elderly.
Abena AI has made it easier for them to check and recharge their credits from their phones, which previously required tech-savviness or English language literacy.
However, Ghartey’s work on Abena AI didn’t end with its release. He realised that he needed to refine the app, a task that proved to be just as challenging as building the voice assistant in the first place.
With limited resources, he crowdsourced translation data from users, but this approach didn’t yield accurate results. He then incentivized users by offering to pay for translations, but eventually ran out of money.
Determined to continue improving the app, Ghartey eventually hired religious translators who worked on church-related translations in Twi.
He remains on the lookout for more ways to gather information about the language and improve Abena AI’s functionality.
Abena AI’s success is a testament to the importance of preserving Ghanaian culture and empowering communities.
By creating technology that caters to local languages and needs, we can bridge the digital divide and make a positive impact in people’s lives.
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