The inventors of an all-terrain ‘smart wheelchair’, a solar-water heating appliance that slashes energy use by 90% and a pneumonia-diagnosing biomedical jacket are among African innovators recognised by the Royal Academy of Engineering as the continent’s future technology pioneers.
Tackling global challenges as diverse as climate change, childhood disease, and access to renewable energy, 16 of the continent’s most promising entrepreneurs have been selected as the 2016/2017 shortlist for the Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation.
The new technologies developed by the shortlisted 16 span all areas of engineering. One aims to revive the natural fibre market and help it compete with synthetic materials. Others enable environmentally-friendly rock drilling for small scale mining, and the electrification of fleets of tuk-tuks in African cities via a network of off-grid charging stations. Software innovations in the shortlist include apps to make public transport safer, cut ambulance response times during emergencies, give academics a network through which to share knowledge and connect students to their perfect tutor.
Hailing from Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, Mozambique and Uganda, the shortlisted innovators will undergo an intensive six months of training and mentorship in business and entrepreneurial skills before a winner is selected to receive the first prize of £25,000.
Applications for the Africa Prize covered all engineering disciplines and came from 15 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Other innovations to make the shortlist include mechanisms for reducing water waste and enabling small-scale farmers to irrigate their fields remotely, and a solar-cooker that tracks the sun and has temperature and timing controls.
Two innovations provide support for those with disabilities: a wheelchair for rough terrain, and a jobs app that connects people with disabilities to recruiters.
The Africa Prize is organised by the Royal Academy of Engineering and aims to recognise and reward innovative African engineers, and to raise the profile of engineering in Africa.
Now in its third year, the Africa Prize equips talented engineers with tools and expert advice to develop their innovations into a business.
“Over the years we’ve seen the Africa Prize alumni go on to develop commercially successful and socially disruptive businesses. These are the engineers who will shape Africa, solve development challenges for local communities, and inspire more innovation,” said chair of the Africa Prize judging panel, Malcolm Brinded CBE FREng.
“The strength of the Prize lies in the success of its incredible alumni, who inspire more engineers to become entrepreneurs and empower themselves to make advances in their communities and cities,” he said.
The 2016 Africa Prize winner, Arthur Zang, has taken his business from a prototype to a successful commercial business in Cameroon which manufactures locally and has government support.
“This award has allowed me to measure myself against the best engineers in Africa. I was pushed to the limits, and it has made me a better scientist and a better entrepreneur,” Zang said after receiving the Africa Prize earlier this year.
The shortlisted candidates this year represent eight African countries:
- Achiri Arnold Nji from Cameroon with Safe Travel, a mobile app that helps prevent public transport accidents
- Alex Makalliwa from Kenya with an electric Tuk-Tuk off-grid charging network
- Aline Okello from Mozambique with a rainwater harvesting app to improve access to rain harvesting equipment
- Andre Nel from South Africa with Green Tower, a solar energy micro-grid boiler
- Brian Turyabagye from Uganda with Mamaope, a biomedical jacket that diagnoses pneumonia
- Edwin Inganji from Kenya with the Usalama app, which boosts the effectiveness of community policing and speeds up emergency services’ reaction times
- Fredrick Ouko from Kenya with Riziki Source, an online platform that connects people with disabilities to jobs
- 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
- James van der Walt from South Africa with the Solar Turtle, a self-contained, off-grid power utility
- Joel King’ori Kariuki from Kenya with a sisal decorticator that speeds up natural fibre production to help it compete with synthetic fibres
- Kevin Gacheru from Kenya with the Mkononi Tank Monitoring System to reduce water wastage
- Lawrence Ojok from Tanzania with the Green Rock Drill, an environmentally friendly drill for small scale mining
- Peter Mbiria from Kenya with the E-Con Wheelchair, an all-terrain wheelchair that allows users to stand upright, climb stairs and self-navigate
- Sesinam Dagadu from Ghana with CodeRed, a health management and disease surveillance app that improves emergency response times from ambulances and police
- Wilfred Leslie Owen from South Africa with an automated solar cooker that tracks the sun and has built-in temperature and timing controls