The Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation is a program created by the UK’s Royal Academy of Engineering. Teams of one-to-three people based in sub-Saharan Africa submit engineering projects to compete for a £25,000 prize (over $35,000 USD).
A short-list of 12 applicants are afforded six months of training, support, and mentorship. This suite of resources is used to improve the project’s end product or system, but also to help find financial backing for production and distribution.
Short-listed projects are chosen by a panel of international judges based on their possible impact on the societal, economic, or environmental welfare of sub-Saharan Africa, as well as on their ability to be mass-produced or mass-implemented. Each of the top three runners up is also awarded £10,000 (over $14,000 USD).
Here’s a bird’s-eye view of three of the finalists from this past year’s competition which use electrical engineering in their projects.
Edmand Aijuka and team
Edmand Aijuka, also known as Eddie, is a young electrical engineer out of Makerere University. He and his team have devised a device they've named Kamata, which means "to seize" in Swahili.
Kamata is a project designed to counter electricity theft, which is a widespread issue for many homes and businesses in Uganda and across the world. Most of this theft is achieved by tampering with electricity meters.
Edmand Aijuka (left) and a colleague show off a prototype of the Kamata device. Image courtesy of Forbes.
The Kamata, itself is a device that installs outside of meter boxes in order to consistently measure the flow of electricity through the meter. If any interruption in flow is detected, Kamata will shut off the power and send information to the electricity company about the incident. Electricity companies would then be able to restore electricity after any issues have been resolved.
This intervention will help keep the prices of electricity low, making it more accessible for everyone.
Standard Microgrid—South Africa
Matt Wainwright and team
Access to reliable energy is difficult to come by in many rural areas in Africa. The Standard Microgrid is designed to be a renewable energy source that allows rural communities to not only access electricity, but to pay for it in an intuitive and sustainable system.
The electricity generated by the grid is designed to waste a minimal amount of energy between collection, storage, and distribution. The grid is also designed to be easily maintained, without requiring specialist knowledge to monitor. Each microgrid can fit inside a shipping container and is fed by a combination of solar panels and large-capacity batteries.
A Standard Microgrid container. Image courtesy of Standard Microgrid.
Wainwright and his partners, Brian Somers and Matt Alcock, designed the project from the business end first. They knew they wanted a system in which they wouldn’t need to charge for electricity by the kilowatt hour. Instead, they found an alternative pricing system by giving customers a subscription to an amount of power that suits their needs to be used only when they need it.
They interview community members first to determine what their power needs will be and what times they’ll need that power—e.g., a household might need enough power for six lightbulbs and a phone charger for use 10 hours each evening through til morning. Standard Microgrid then issues a suitable power strip to each household and supplies suitable electricity to it accordingly. This allows for a much more simplistic and predictable power systems.
Brian Bosire and team
Brian Bosire and his partners are trying to help African farmers be successful in order to improve rural economics—but also to reduce the number of Africans who go to bed hungry.
Their project, named UjuziKilimo, uses an electronic sensor to analyze soil for farmers. The sensor is linked to a central database that provides resources for best practices based on that soil’s profile. These best practices are then sent to the farmers by text message, allowing them to make informed decisions on what crop species to plant, how to take care of them, and what they’re worth in the current market.
Brian Bosire (right) pictured with the UjuziKilimo sensor in use. Image courtesy of the African Independent.
The system is meant to be affordable for farmers across Africa. The sensor, itself, and testing kit will be available for $200 via a pay-as-you-go plan. A subscription to up-to-date database information is projected to be $0.50 per month.
The UjuziKilimo sensor at work. Image courtesy of Brian Bosire.
The unifying factor for these projects is the drive to improve quality of life. The people creating these systems and devices represent how engineering can be realistically used to bring modern technology to every corner of the world.
The Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation is currently accepting applications for the coming year’s competition. Applications will be accepted until June 30th, 2016.