16 Entrepreneurs Vying For The Africa Prize For Engineering Innovation
We’re shining the spotlight on entrepreneurial African engineers who’ve come up with problem-solving innovations ranging from an app that reduces emergency response time to urban areas without street addresses, to a solar-powered drill that reduces labor for artisanal miners. They’re being recognized by the U.K.’s Royal Academy of Engineering as African technology pioneers and a chance to win a prize of $30,852 US. Applications came from 15 sub-Saharan Africa countries.
Now in its third year, the Africa Prize equips talented engineers with tools and expert advice to develop their innovations into a business.
The 2016 Africa Prize winner, Arthur Zang, took his idea from a prototype to a successful commercial business in Cameroon which manufactures locally and has government support. Zang invented the Cardiopad, a touch-screen medical tablet that allows heart exams such as electrocardiogram to be performed at remote, rural locations.
Prize sponsors include the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, Shell, ConocoPhillips, and the U.K. government.
Their innovations will blow you away. Here are the 16 entrepreneurs vying for the Africa Prize For Engineering Innovation.
Sources: Proof Communication Africa, Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation, Forbes
Achiri Arnold Nji, Cameroon
Innovation: Safe Travel
Road accidents account for more deaths than malaria and AIDS combined in the Central African Economic and Monetary Community (Gabon, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Republic of the Congo and Equatorial Guinea), according to World Bank.
Safe Travel is an app designed to help prevent accidents by equipping drivers and authorities with better data. The mobile software system monitors the speed, location and number of passengers in a bus, and alerts drivers and authorities to potential dangers.
Speeding or reckless driving is recorded and the app sends the speed, location, driver’s name and bus number to the Safe Travel team, who evaluate it. Road safety authorities can be contacted if necessary. The app can also also notify family members, authorities and nearby hospitals in event of an accident.
Travelr, an android app that tracks driver behavior, is already freely available on the Google Play store. An iOS version is under development. Revenue comes from selling the data to insurance agencies and road authorities. Safe Travel already has attracted interest from NGOs and the private sector in Cameroon.
Alex Makalliwa, Kenya
Innovation: Electric Tuk-Tuks and Off-Grid Charging Stations
Tuk-tuks are popular transport in African cities, but their engines are noisy and pollute the environment. Using solar powered electric charging stations, Alex Makalliwa plans to revolutionize the tuk-tuk industry in Kenya, supporting a new fleet of electric tuk-tuks with a network of solar-powered, off-grid charging stations to overcome poor grid connectivity in many African cities.
His innovation could save drivers 50 percent of their current costs.
Makalliwa’s company, Kuza Automotive Limited, imports components for the electric drive shafts, but is aiming for 100 percent local production. Charging stations are set to be completely electric to reduce CO2 emissions.
For now, the business will be built on tuk-tuk conversions and sales, and the network of charging stations.
Aline Okello, Mozambique
Innovation: Rainwater Harvesting App
A doctoral student in hydrology, Mozambican Aline Okello has designed an application to help users set up rainwater harvesting systems tailored to their area and rainfall patterns.
Customers can calculate how much water they could harvest and what kind of equipment to use based on their roof type, geographical location and tank equipment available in their area. Customers are linked directly to suppliers and have access to accurate rain forecasts.
Based in South Africa, Okello’s app allows users to buy the best rainwater harvesting system for their homes straight from the app, and request delivery. Suppliers can advertise on the app, and research institutions can use the software to access accurate rain forecasts.
The goal is to run the app in countries across Africa, Latin America and the Asia-Pacific region.
Andre Johan Nel, South Africa
Former rocket scientist Andre Nel now works solving electricity supply and carbon-emission problems.
His solution to high home energy use and carbon footprint is GreenTower, a solar-powered micro-grid and geyser system. The patent-pending GreenTower geyser uses 90 percent less energy than a standard geyser, making it possible to run it with solar power.
Water is heated by the sun in a series of thermal pipes and low-pressure storage tanks. Once heated, the water is pressurized using electrical energy generated by the photovoltaic solar panels. It stays hot overnight using the same electrical energy.
Excess electricity is fed back into the grid to avoid waste or used to power LED lights and household appliances. Owners can monitor the hybrid system’s performance and energy consumption remotely online.
The system is designed as a large-scale solution to energy challenges. A single unit, packaged in insulated recycled shipping containers, can service 15 homes and reduce the electricity demand from a community by 65 percent, easing pressure on the national power grid.
Edwin Inganji, Kenya
Innovation: Usalama Application
Usalama is an android mobile phone app that boosts the effectiveness of Kenya’s community policing and speeds up reaction time for emergency services.
In an emergency, a user can alert the police, medical or fire authorities and other Usalama users within 200 meters by shaking their android phone three times. It also works by holding down the volume button for six seconds, or tapping the emergency icon.
The user can choose a description of the circumstances to send to emergency services and an updated emergency location is sent every five minutes.
An added walk-with-me feature enables users to follow each other’s walk home until they are safe, without physically being there.
The app will be free to the public but emergency service providers will pay for it.
Fredrick Ouko, Kenya
Innovation: Riziki Source
Kenya has about 6 million people with disabilities, many living in rural areas. In a digital age, more people with physical challenges can work remotely than in the past.
Africa has 80 million people living with disabilities, according to U.N. statistics. Up to 80 percent are unemployed, often living in extreme poverty.
Fredrick Ouko recognized a large, untapped human resource in the disabled community. His innovation, Riziki Source, is an online tool that uses digital technology to overcome barriers faced by people with disabilities seeking employment.
His web and text message-based platform connects people with disabilities to jobs and employers. A text message with their location, disability and expertise lists potential employees on a database. Employers can browse the database and set up interviews with candidates. Users pay for the service once they are employed.
Launched in Kenya and supported by the government’s Department of Labour, Riziki Source already has 300 subscribers.
Riziki Source plans to offer training on how to successfully incorporate disabled people into working environments for employers who do want a physical presence in the workplace.
Godwin Benson, Nigeria
Tuteria helps match students to a skilled tutor in their area. Designed by Nigerian systems engineer Godwin Benson, the web-based platform already has 6,500 approved tutors, and about 1,250 students using the platform.
Learners range from as young as 4 to university students up to age 28.
Both tutors and learners are vetted to ensure a high quality learning experience. Subjects range from math and science to piano and language. Learners book and pay for lessons online, and tutors are paid once the lessons are completed.
Benson, himself a tutor for nearly a decade, aims to grow Tuteria beyond Nigeria as a reliable source of educational support for all ages.
Hindu Nabulumba, Uganda
Innovation: Yaaka Network
Ugandan innovator Hindu Nabulumba designed the Yaaka Digital Learning Network and tablet to help people who are eager to learn but can’t physically go to learning institutions.
The online platform, designed like an interactive social network, allows students and teachers to share academic materials and knowledge. The tablet makes these resources available offline.
The Yaaka Network is a forum, an academic resource, a job listing, a tutoring aid and a peer-to-peer sharing platform all in one.
It pairs a physical device with a digital environment where teachers and students can share academic information and materials. Teachers can tutor remotely and earn extra income, and users can benefit from each other’s experience and guidance.
James van der Walt, South Africa
The SolarTurtle is a mobile power station that provides instant electrification wherever it’s needed, no matter how remote.
Housed in a shipping container, the solar panels are folded out easily, and charge batteries inside recycled bottles. Users take a bottle home and plug it into their home system, and then simply exchange it for a fee at the SolarTurtle when it’s depleted.
Electrical engineer James van der Walt designed the SolarTurtle to electrify rural schools. Since then the project has grown to become a multipurpose, theft-proof utility.
The SolarTurtle is aimed at 585 million sub-Saharan Africans who don’t have electricity, and the security of the box suits high-crime areas where solar panels are frequently stolen.
The project has had three successful pilots and the team hopes to start exporting to Nigeria and Mozambique in 2016.
Joel King’ori Kariuki, Kenya
Innovation: Sisal Decorticator
The world uses more than 90 million tons of fiber a year — a big market for
Joel Kariuki, a mechanical engineer from Kenya who invented a peeler to benefit farmers and fiber manufacturers.
Natural and biodegradable fibers grow abundantly in Africa. The problem is the market favors synthetic fiber products.
The Sisal Decorticator is a mechanized peeler that makes it more profitable to process natural sisal fiber, giving the industry a competitive boost over popular synthetics. Sisal is used in rope, paper, hardboard, textiles and mattresses.
Kariuki believes that speeding up the sisal production process through mechanization will make it profitable again, and swing the market away from polluting synthetic fiber products and back to natural fibers.
The world fiber market consumption was at about 95.6 million tons in 2015. The Sisal Decorticator is designed to pay for itself in a single month, replacing the manual process currently used in the industry. It removes the core of the sisal leaf, leaving intact the fiber that serves as a valuable product for many small-scale farmers in Kenya and the rest of the continent.
The prototype has been tested extensively, and Kariuki hopes that the innovation will help reduce conflicts in arid regions of Kenya where sisal farming could prove a viable alternative to subsistence farming.
Kevin Gacheru, Kenya
Innovation: Tank Mkononi Monitoring System
The Tank Mkononi Monitoring system cuts down on waste water for the millions of Kenyans who use water tanks in irrigation.
In Kenya, 40 percent of urbanites and 60 percent of the rural population lack access to a safe and reliable water source. As a result, water tanks are popular throughout the country. It can take a small-scale farmer up to three hours to irrigate a farm from his water tank. The Tank Mkononi system speeds up the process by automating it.
The solar-powered water distribution and tank monitoring system can be controlled by mobile phone, and monitor the levels in water tanks, allowing the user to remotely open and close valves and pumps to distribute water or refill the tank.
Gacheru, a 26-year-old water resource engineer, estimates that through proper monitoring and management of water tanks, Tank Mkononi users will be able to save more than 30 percent of their water. He is testing the prototype on a small-scale rural farm in Kenya.
Lawrence Ojok, Tanzania
Innovation: Green Rock Drill
There are more than 8 million small-scale and artisanal miners working in Africa, and the Green Rock Drill is designed for them. It’s is a solar-powered alternative to fossil fuel-powered rock drills, and better for the environment.
Tanzanian engineer Lawrence Ojok created the mechanized drill to ease the labor of hand chiseling often practiced in artisanal mining. It fills the gap between the tools of manual miners and the expensive fuel-powered drills used in larger mining operations.
The machine can also be powered by a pedal, sucking up the fine dust released during mining and reducing air pollution.
Now in its prototype stage, the drill generates rotation and hammering action necessary for rock drilling. Ojok is confident his drill will find market success, and the Tanzanian State Mining Corporation and the Small Scale Miners Association agree.
Peter Mbiria, Kenya
Innovation: E-Con Wheelchair
Kenyan mechanical engineering student Peter Mbiria originally created the E-Con wheelchair for a friend with arthritis.
The versatile innovation now includes many solutions in one. The wheelchair can climb up and down stairs, go off road and allow the user to stand upright.
It has unique design features that make the world easier to navigate for people with physical challenges, such as four sets of three wheels and the ability to rearrange wheels to get the user out of a tight space
A database of statistics collected about the user’s health lets the wheelchair encourage the user to do things like stretch or drink water.
The goal is to increase independence for the disabled.
Sesinam Dagadu, Ghana
CodeRed is a logistics app that reduces emergency response time with a custom-made mapping system for urban areas that lack formal street addresses.
Using software originally written to help deliver parcels faster, the CodeRed software now helps ambulances navigate dense urban areas to get to Ghanaians faster.
While affluent areas have well-established street names and postal addressing systems, informal settlements are more challenging for emergency services to navigate. The software divides regions by codes using numbers and letters, and maps out areas to make them easier to navigate.
Dagadu’s team was identified following the 2015 Ebola outbreak to help manage future disasters. CodeRed is now used in 14 ambulance stations serving 4.2 million Ghanaians in Accra, the capital city. There are 132 ambulance stations total, and the team plans to grow CodeRed beyond Ghana.
CodeRed wants to help the Ghana National Ambulance Service meet the World Health Organisation standard of an eight-minute reaction time, even when telecommunications are unavailable.
Because the software is simple to use and does not rely on national infrastructure, it will be available during crises such as natural disasters and disease outbreaks.
Brian Turyabagye, Uganda
Ugandan engineer Brian Turyabagye designed a biomedical smart jacket to quickly and accurately diagnose pneumonia, which kills 27,000 Ugandan children under the age of 5 every year. Most of these cases are due to pneumonia being misdiagnosed as malaria.
Many Ugandan health professionals don’t have a deep understanding of the differences between malaria and pneumonia.
Mama-Ope is is fitted to the patient, and the device measures temperature and breathing rates and listens to the sound of the patient’s lungs, then compares results to a database of parameters. The jacket, currently a prototype, can diagnose pneumonia three times faster than a doctor and reduce human error.
The jacket has four monitoring points that capture sounds which are amplified, filtered and analysed in the device. The results, along with the child’s temperature reading, are sent to a mobile phone app via Bluetooth.
In addition to diagnosing patients, a data platform also keeps a history of cases which can help the government in combating the disease.
Wilfred Fritz, South Africa
A solar-cooker that tracks the sun, the Water&Solar100 solves several problems that have made solar cookers unpopular to date.
It’s lightweight and portable, tracks the sun automatically, has temperature and timing controls, and generates electricity to charge batteries. It’s a safe, convenient and sustainable solution to fossil fuel cooking in rural areas and reducing fuel costs.
The device can also generate electricity, charge batteries and sterilize water and medical instruments in areas where alternative equipment isn’t available.
Fritz calls his innovation a “solar cooker with brains.”
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