College of Agriculture, Engineering
and Science (CAES)

ISA Vice-President Awarded PhD

Vice-president of UKZN’s International Student Association (ISA) on the Westville campus, Dr Ronald Keng’ara Tombe graduated with a PhD in Computer Science.

With the digital world and the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) taking centre stage, Tombe explored machine learning techniques that are effective in characterising the complex semantics of remote sensing images.

‘Kenya was a foundation for me to get into the technology field with a strong desire to develop information technology solutions for industry in this digital era,’ he said. He graduated from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology in Kenya with a Bachelor’s Degree in Information Technology and was subsequently awarded a Master of Science in Software Engineering. His desire to solve complex challenges in the computing discipline led him to enrol for his PhD in Computer Science at UKZN.

Advances in satellite technology, remote sensors and drone technologies have yielded high-quality sensing images (big data) that require effective and intelligent earth observation application processing. Tombe focused on remote sensing and its applications. He found that remote sensing images are a valuable source of data, which can be used to determine and visualise detailed information on the Earth’s surface with the aid of computer algorithms that can effectively extract and interpret these image data.

Tombe formulated various computer vision methods that effectively characterised the complex semantics of remote sensing images. The research applied advanced machine learning techniques such as convolutional neural networks, multigrain cascade deep forests, and deep residual networks for feature characterisation and classification of remote sensing images – computer vision aids in developing artificial intelligence solutions for a broad range of applications in earth observations.

‘Computer algorithms are the architecture and engine for software solutions on various digital devices in the fourth industrial revolution era,’ said Tombe.

In his PhD research he used computer algorithms which have different computer vision applications for earth observation systems, surveillance systems, medical imaging systems, and smart-farming, among many other applications that utilise sensing technologies. He has published papers in high-impact journals and attended international conferences.

On serving as Vice-president of ISA on the Westville campus, Tombe commented: ISA gave me the chance to learn about different cultures and how the diversity of culture, when embraced, enriches our ways of knowing and provides alternative approaches to address issues.’

His supervisor, Professor Serestina Viriri said: ‘Ronald was a hard-working student with the passion and determination to make novel contributions in his research work. This is attested to by the high quality research output he has published.’

Tombe is currently a lecturer in the Department of Computer Science at Kisii University, Kenya. He is working on various projects to build research teams to develop ICT solutions that address problems of a local and global scope. This collaboration will involve aspects of software engineering, big data and machine learning.

Words: Leena Rajpal

Photograph: Supplied