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Embracing technology can change people’s lives

A rare International Conference and Expo on 3D Printing will be held at Kenyatta University between May 26 -27.

The conference is being organised in conjunction with the African Centre for Technology Studies (ACTS). And between August 1 – 5, the University of Nairobi’s 2nd Innovation Week 2016 will take place.

This is good news for local technology adoption, as the two events will showcase technologies that have the real potential of solving local problems.

One of the highlights of the week will showcase the application of 3D in healthcare, especially in the development of prosthetics. There is likelihood that some biotechnology applications will also be showcased.

These conferences will, undoubtedly, demystify the application of advanced technologies in manufacturing within Africa.

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The end game of these initiatives is to properly disrupt the local mindset and perhaps build the confidence to start manufacturing some of these solutions.

Although technologies like 3D printing are revolutionising manufacturing in virtually all parts of the world, Africa still lags behind in leveraging this technology yet the continent has most of the problems that can be solved by such technologies.

There are many products that are imported into Africa that really should be manufactured locally using 3D printing. The continent can reduce import expenditure by creating several small and medium enterprises that would print motor vehicle parts.

Part of the problem is lack of knowledge and exposure to these technologies. The University of Nairobi, in conjunction with an Israeli firm, Tikkun Olam Makers (TOM), that connects people with disabilities with makers and developers of solutions for everyday challenges, is planning to demonstrate what can be done with these technologies, especially in the healthcare sector.

The process will start by bringing local and international engineers, designers, makers innovators and problem solvers together with need-knowers (a need-knower is a person with a deep understanding of a specific disability challenge, either due to personal life experience or professional choices) to develop solutions for their real-life challenges.

Details of this open innovation will be discussed at the inaugural meeting next month. The aim of this event is to develop extremely affordable, need-focused solutions that assist and empower people living with disabilities.

The event will take place during the Innovation Week over three days in a makerspace outfitted with all the necessary tools for creating incredible prototypes and products.

Machinery includes (but is not limited to) 3D printers in a variety of sizes and materials, CNC machines, laser cutters, traditional woodshop tools, welding capabilities and more.

The University of Nairobi already has a fab lab with many of the required tools. If need be, Technical University of Kenya and other pioneering firms like Gearbox and Furkidz would fill in the gap.

The university’s partners, TOM too will come with other tools as required. The entire event will cost a significant amount of money and as such organisations that want to be part of history are encouraged to contribute to the University’s innovation kitty or directly sponsor specific individuals who have physical disabilities.

Much of the resource will go towards the purchase of materials that will be used by different teams working on various challenges.

The event participation is open to all Universities, developers and any other experts in medical field. The event is likely to open the eyes of many unemployed youth to begin setting up unique enterprises and exploit emerging opportunities not only in the health sector but all other aspects of manufacturing.

The School of Computing and Informatics has already started a course on design thinking and other support courses as a strategy to build capacity in these emerging opportunities.

These initiatives will accord the country an opportunity to not only create new employment but also a chance to really put a smile to many physically challenged persons.

Open innovation, as defined by Henry Chesbrough, “is a paradigm that assumes that firms can and should use external ideas as well as internal ideas, and internal and external paths to market, as the firms look to advance their technology.”

Kenya needs both internal and external ideas to advance her technology and that opportunity requires collaborative effort to realise.

Albert Einstein said: “It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.” Let’s simply embrace this thing called technology and change people’s lives.

The writer is an associate professor at University of Nairobi’s School of Business.

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