Liquid Galaxy at Google for Nigeria
August 6, 2018
Over the years, Liquid Galaxy has taken us to many a far-flung locale, but few of us at End Point were expecting a Liquid Galaxy installation in Africa. Yet that is exactly what happened: In conjunction with Google’s “Next Billion Users” initiative, End Point was invited to install a Liquid Galaxy at “Google for Nigeria” in Lagos, Africa’s largest city, a teeming metropolis of 21 million souls.
With the challenge of getting our equipment to Nigeria and hearsay about intermittent Internet and electricity, we had more than our usual concern about making sure our Liquid Galaxy would function reliably for the event. And given the US Department of State’s warnings about health and safety, the trip would be more involved than most. However, End Point engineer Will Plaut fairly leapt at the chance. More than 20 hours of flying, a bevy of vaccines and a host of visa procedures were no match for Will’s intrepid spirit and sense of adventure — he even took it upon himself to hunt down the difficult-to-find Yellow Fever vaccine in Greenville, South Carolina.
But before simply sending Will off to fend for himself amidst the hubbub of Lagos, the list of logistics problems seemed unending. The first order of business was to find a local contact to advise us both on the vagaries of shipping and customs as well as to help our engineer set the system up, keep him out of harm’s way, and give him a real taste of Nigeria. A tall order. Luckily, End Point had a personal contact who put us in touch with Olufunmilola “Afeez” Atiku, fixer extraordinaire. Afeez was not only able to explain to us the protocol for shipping (the LG could not be simply shipped to the airport in Lagos, then picked up, but had to be entrusted to a local shipper), he also arranged for Will to be picked up at the airport, whisked through customs, and accompanied & assisted 24×7 for the next 6 days by the joyous and trusted Taofik. The driving chores were delegated to an aptly named fellow known only as “Happiness”.
In the meantime, Joanne Tipton of End Point was beginning the first of dozens of phone calls with Cody Ressler and Ben Witten to find a US-based shipper who could actually get our system to Lagos in time for the event. As with all international events, the nearer the deadline, the more time grows magically short. When our normal shipper informed us, at the 11th hour, that they would be unable to get the LG to Nigeria in time to get through customs, time became an even scarcer commodity. Said time-crunch unfortunately corresponded with Joanne’s weekend and Cody’s vacation, but both of them dropped what they were doing and began the frantic hunt for both a new US-based shipper and a Nigerian shipper who could receive, store, and deliver the system to the event venue. One spent weekend later, DHL agreed to retrieve the system from our usual courier in Atlanta and ship it to Nigeria where the WhatsApp-using (sometimes as many as 5 messages per hour!) Nigerian shipper known only as Shekoni would take care of the rest.
All of which came to pass. Whereas we expected considerable delays at customs, Shekoni sent us the following photos, the morning after arrival of the LG in Nigeria, showing our system neatly unpacked, de-palletized, and sitting in the middle of the Landmark Centre.
Last year, in April 2017, Google came to Nigeria to announce the release of its offline app, YouTube Go. At this year’s Google for Nigeria event, the emphasis was on Google Go, a search app built specifically for the African market to address the issue of slow Internet connectivity. While cell phones are everywhere in Africa, the Internet is not yet able to deal with demand, so something like Google Go seems like the answer. It weighs less than 5 megabytes, functions optimally on low-RAM smartphones, and is able to save up to 40% data by using a new compression technology to make search and web experiences faster.
At Google for Nigeria, the Blend event production agency of Cape Town, South Africa, was charged with creating an immersive playground, hence the invitation to End Point for a Liquid Galaxy. Thankfully, Google installed a special 700 Mbps line (routed through London, as Google Station will be in the future); electricity was provided by a generator in order to avoid the periodic outages of the public electric service. For this event, the scope of content was limited to showing Google Street View, but the effect was magnified by the fact that, for many of the attendees, this was the first time they had ever experienced Street View, and they were duly wowed. No less than the Vice President of Nigeria, Professor Oluyemi Oluleke “Yemi” Osinbajo, came by personally to give the Liquid Galaxy a drive!
Thanks to our End Point support team working into the wee hours of the morning, the event went off without a hitch, and Will was able to concentrate on the throngs of people anxious to explore with the LG. While the usual flock of corporate and government attendees were in good number, Will reported, “a good portion of the people there were individuals looking to learn about the high-tech things they are interested in and working on. I heard lots of ‘Where’s the AI booth?’ and ‘Hey, is there anything about machine learning?’”.
We were all struck by the incredible energy and resourcefulness of the Nigerians we dealt with, a fact not lost on the many large companies moving into Nigeria to tap into the untold potential of the burgeoning tech scene; a reflection of the same energy Will found in his travels around Lagos: “I really loved the resourcefulness I saw everywhere. People with hair salons that consisted of a broken piece of mirror and a chair with an umbrella over it, people carrying around sewing machines, and everything you can imagine for sale while you are stuck in traffic.”
Seizing the opportunity, Will decided to stay on for a couple of days after the event and explore the city and its music, accompanied and advised by Taofik. I had visions of Fela Kuti and King Sunny Ade, but Afeez laughed at me on the phone saying, “That is only for old dudes. It’s all hip-hop now.” My deception was great, but Will mightily enjoyed the social clubs he visited with Taofik and almost laughed at my question “Did people dance at these places?”, saying that Nigerians dance whenever and wherever they can.
Will is now back in Tennessee with nothing more than a bad case of jetlag. Joanne and Cody had begun the hard work of organizing a return shipment when a last minute (Sunday) email from Google arrived asking if the Liquid Galaxy had left Africa. It seems Google was so enthused by their experience in Lagos that they are planning a reprise in Kenya in October, and see no way of doing so without the Liquid Galaxy. Since the cost of continuing to rent the system adds up with multiple events, Google is now planning to simply purchase the LG used at Google for Nigeria.
Stay tuned for future developments!