Who designed Sophia the Robot’s Umushanana?

Sophia the Robot, donning the umushanana, addresses delegates at the summit on May 15, 2019 in Kigali. / Nadege Imbabazi

Sophia, the humanoid robot developed by Hong Kong based company Hanson Robotics, is one of the key highlights of Transform Africa Summit (TAS2019), in Kigali. 

The 5th edition of Transform Africa Summit opened at the Kigali Convention Centre on Wednesday, May 15, with over 4,000 delegates in attendance. The theme for this year is: “Boosting Africa’s Digital Economy”. The high-level summit concludes today, May 17.

Following her special appearance and speech on the opening day, Sophia quickly became a social media sensation in Rwanda, and subject of intense public discussion. A Twitter hash tag; @RealSophiaRobot was created in her honour.

The fact that she was dressed in Rwandan traditional wear, Umushanana, endeared Sophia even more to the Rwandan public.

“Such an honour to wear a beautiful Umushanana at #TAS2019. The Umushanana is a traditional ceremonial dress of women in Rwanda, and consists of a wrapped skirt and a sash draped over one shoulder. I love learning more about cultures through their dress. How do I look?” Sophia tweeted following her presentation.

Talented local fashion designer, Moses Turahirwa of Moshions Fashion House came up with Sophia’s stunning outfit.

Turahirwa says he clinched the deal to dress Sophia after approaching the Smart Africa Secretariat offices in Kigali. Smart Africa is the continental organisation in charge of organising the annual Transform Africa Summit.

“I have a few friends there (Smart Africa offices), so when I learnt they were bringing the robot to Kigali for this summit, I gave them the idea,” Turahirwa told The New Times in an interview.

He added: “When she arrived in the country, I went to do the fittings. I settled for the Umushanana, because I wanted the robot to look Rwandan. I settled for the colour orange, which is the official colour for Smart Africa. I also added a bit of my touch as Moshions, hence the imigongo patterns.”

Turahirwa was tight lipped about the amount of money he was paid for the job, and instead explained that the biggest benefit was the exposure and visibility the Moshions brand generated from dressing the robot.

A citizen of Saudi Arabia and a United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Ambassador, Sophia has the ability to see, follow facial expressions, and sustain eye contact, among other abilities. She can process speech, hold conversations using a natural language sub system, and can also walk.

In November 2017, she was named the United Nations Development Programme’s first-ever Innovation Champion.


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