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Six Kenyan engineering innovations in top contention for Africa prize

Kenyan innovator  Kelvin Gacheru shows a test-installation of the sensor unit attached to a water tank atop a hotel building in Nairobi. PHOTO | COURTESY
Kenyan innovator Kelvin Gacheru shows a test-installation of the sensor unit attached to a water tank atop a hotel building in Nairobi. PHOTO | COURTESY  

On completing his water engineering training, Kelvin Gacheru was stationed in various areas across the country setting up water projects.

Working in Matuu, Narok, and Loitoktok among other relatively dry areas, he saw the struggle to get water and also struggled with monitoring the projects.

“We set up the projects but once we left it was difficult to monitor them and see whether they were sustainable,” said Mr Gacheru.

The challenge prompted the engineer to develop a way to keep track of the water, which was achieved through the Tank Mkononi monitoring system.

The system keeps track of water levels and automatically sends a text to the user alerting them when the water levels go below a certain point.

This allows a user to monitor tanks across the country through the sensor connected to a controller in the tank.

Gacheru’s system is one of the six Kenyan innovations that have been shortlisted for the Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation, founded by the Royal Academy of Engineering.

Launched in 2014, the Prize aims to stimulate, celebrate and reward innovative engineers from across the continent.

The Africa Prize is supported by the Shell Centenary Scholarship Fund, Consolidated Contractors Company, ConocoPhillips, the Mo Ibrahim Foundation and the UK Government through the Global Challenges Research Fund.

The shortlist consists of 16 innovations, with Kenya having the highest number of innovations.

Gacheru hopes that with funding for the grant, he can distribute the SMS platform to communities in water scarce areas to locate and access the nearest water point and the nearest water point and if it has water.

The system will also allow water suppliers to know the demand and sustainability of their water in a particular area.

In 2013, an experience in the hands of criminals in Nairobi prompted a shaken Edwin Inganji to come up with a panic button to help individuals access emergency services.

Dubbed Usalama, the Swahili word for safety, the app can be activated quickly and silently, alerting the emergency services simply by shaking the phone three times, holding down the volume button, or tapping on the emergency icon.
It works by immediately alerting the police forces, friends and fellow users of the app.

Inganji who is a computer scientist developed Usalama in an effort to make sure that help gets to people most in need.
He is the second Kenyan on the shortlist.

Peter Mbiria, another of the shortlisted candidates, has the E-Con Wheelchair, an all-terrain wheelchair that allows users to stand upright, climb stairs and self-navigate.

His creation, assembled from electronic waste, can climb stairs, go off-road and allows users to stand upright, while moonlighting as a data-mapping tool.

Others in line for the grant include Alex Makalliwa who came up with an electric Tuk-Tuk off-grid charging network. The Tuk-tuks are powered by a network of solar-powered, off –grid charging stations.

Fredrick Ouko came up with the Riziki Source, an online platform that connects people with disabilities to jobs. The final Kenya participant, Joel King’ori Kariuki, has a sisal decorticator that speeds up natural fibre production to help it compete with synthetic fibres.

Other shortlisted candidates

Innovations from the other countries include Safe Travel, a mobile app that helps prevent public transport accidents by Achiri Arnold Nji from Cameroon; a rainwater harvesting app to improve access to rain harvesting equipment by Aline Okello from Mozambique; Green Tower, a solar energy micro-grid boiler Andre Nel from South Africa.

Brian Turyabagye from Uganda presented Mamaope, a biomedical jacket that diagnoses pneumonia; Godwin Benson from Nigeria with Tuteria, a peer-to-peer platform that connects students to tutors; Hindu Nabulumba from Uganda with the Yaaka Network, which connects students, academics and trainers on a single social network and James van der Walt from South Africa with the Solar Turtle, a self-contained, off-grid power utility.

Others are Lawrence Ojok from Tanzania with the Green Rock Drill, an environmentally friendly drill for small scale mining, Sesinam Dagadu from Ghana with CodeRed, a health management and disease surveillance app that improves emergency response times from ambulances and police and Wilfred Leslie Owen from South Africa with an automated solar cooker that tracks the sun and has built-in temperature and timing controls.