FROM CLASS AND LAB TO THE FIELD

FROM CLASS AND LAB TO THE FIELD

From stone tool to the invention of the wheel. From Ben Franklin’s kite experiment to the invention of light bulb, from the vacuum tube to the invention of the transistor and hence integrated circuits, mankind’s core is the ability to discover, identify a missing entity then attempt to design and implement a solution.

This endeavor continues to be seen in the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) Tech Expo held every few months. This is an opportunity for JKUAT students to come up with projects, showcase their projects and the winner determined by the judges and other students who are given a chance to vote for the best project. JKUAT Tech Expo is also an incredible platform that accords students the opportunity to learn and expand their intellectual horizons and this year was no different. 

Focusing on the importance of Sustainable Development Goals, it offered an opportunity for youth to be part of our countries conversation of problem solving, innovation and future development. We of course did not want you to be left out of the conversation thus here are a few of the incredible projects showcased during this year’s Tech Expo held on 27th February and 28th February 2020 in JKUAT.

THE WEEDING BOT

Weeds are plants that grow where they are not needed. Weeds have some adverse effects to crops such as lowering yields and harboring pests therefore resulting to farmers running on losses since most of the funds are used to control the weeds. Some methods of weed control can also be harmful to the environment especially water bodies.

A group of JKUAT student decided to come up with a robot that can help farmers curb this menace and also help reduce the effects of herbicides on the environment, they named it the Weeding Bot. Weeding Bot is a robot capable of detecting weeds growing in rows of crops and uprooting the weeds.

The robot recently captured the world’s attention when it was declared the regional winners of the 18th annual Imagine Cup Competition and successfully being selected to participate in the World Championship and to compete for the 2020 trophy on the biggest stage yet (The Microsoft Build digital event).

We decided to interview the group members Michael Mwaisakenyi and Kenneth Gichira and came up with this article.

About the project

Agriculture is the backbone of the African economy with 7 out of every 10 homes relying on it for survival. However, weeds rob farmers of up to 60% of their yields. Bearing this in mind, the team decided to come up with a solution to this problem. Their solution is the weeding bot, an autonomous mobile robot that makes weeding simple and avoids the use of herbicides which are harmful to the farmer, consumer and the environment.

The robot on four wheels, navigates through the farm while uprooting intra-row weeds and exposing the roots of the inter-row weeds. This is done automatically by the robot through the use of artificial intelligence and a camera that acts as the eyes of the robot and informs the decisions of the Artificial Intelligence loaded onto the robot.

Inspiration

Agriculture is the backbone of Africa’s economy. Many families rely on agriculture directly let alone through the value chain, weeds have been the biggest threat to the crop yields that farmers such as Michael Mwaisakenyi’s Grandfather get in return, it has been observed that there are yield losses of up to 200 million metric tonnes just from weeds.

This will soon get worse with the decreasing labour on farms because of rural-urban migration seeking for white-collar jobs.

That would leave only two options: either sitting back and waiting to import solutions that are tailor-made for developed countries or actually decide solving our own problems and inspire more to do the same. The team decided on the latter.

Thoughts as the project was being developed

The team’s main thought was how people would benefit from the Weeding Bot especially farmers who would start getting huge returns from their farming investments. Other thoughts are how this could be the beginning of fully automating farms and the employment opportunity that would be created from such a project on a mass production especially to the youth whilst still exposing them to technology such as artificial intelligence something that would inevitably lead to creation of more solutions. Kind of a domino effect!

Challenges Faced

Getting the components was quite a hustle for the team as most of the components aren’t available in Kenya, they therefore had to import them. The lead time for the equipment arrival was quite long and the team wanted to have a fully functional working prototype for both the Imagine Cup and the JKUAT Tech Expo.

Performance at the JKUAT Tech Expo

The team performed well at the Tech Expo in terms of presentation and demonstration drawing in large crowds of people. The exposure got by the team was game changing and played a role in the regional competitions of the Imagine Cup. The team is glad to have gotten positive feedback from the Tech Expo especially when showcasing live and opening up to critics from the people who would actually use the product when it goes to market, this was very important to the team.

Although Weed Bot did not win, the team got a lot of exposure from the Tech Expo. They got good feedback from the judges, farmers and students.

Effect of the performance on the team

Kenneth Gichira says he liked the exposure he got from the Tech Expo because he was able to fine tune his presentation and demonstration skills. He always wanted to participate in the Tech Expo before he graduated from school, the opportunity made him very happy.

Future Plans

The team plans on taking the project to the next level which is beta testing by launching a pilot program that will have 10 farmers with 7 robots, getting feedback from the farmers and incorporate it into the product development. The team vow to make sure Weed Bot serves farmers better than they expect making it a world class product.

Advice to those thinking about participating in Tech Expo

In as much as the Tech aspect is important, also bear in mind having a proper business model that prospective investors can look at. This will show how viable your project is and stands a high chance of receiving funding.

Don’t let the noise of other people’s opinion drown out your own inner voice. Be bold and follow your heart

QUALIS VISION

In as much as the Tech aspect is important, also bear in mind having a proper business model that prospective investors can look at. This will show how viable your project is and stands a high chance of receiving funding.

Don’t let the noise of other people’s opinion drown out your own inner voice. Be bold and follow your heart

What is Qualis Vision?

Qualis Vision is a project aimed at improving the quality of life of the visually impaired fellows in the society. The project employs the use of a wearable device which performs actions that a visually impaired fellow would have trouble engaging. The device employs the use of computer vision and artificial intelligence to perform the following:

  1. Optical Character Recognition   This enables a visually impaired person to read without using braille. Images of texts are taken and an audio output returned to the user.
  2. Emotion detection                              The device is able to recognize a range of emotions from the face of someone interacting with the visually impaired. This uses artificial intelligence from Qualis Labs’ trained model which detects if a person is sad, happy, angry, surprised or neutral.
  3. General image captioning(scene)      This enables a visually impaired person to interact with the world around them. The artificial intelligence model can capture various common household and office objects and relay the result of what is found in a room to the user in audio format. The model constructs sentences from the objects to relay a coherent response to the user.

Inspiration

Many innovations aren’t focused on the physically challenged in the society but rather on the physically abled. One touching story over lunch was the genesis of the Qualis Vision journey and we agree that it has been a rollercoaster. Our colleague, Washington has a cousin who after falling ill became blind. At that tender age of 11, she first learned braille in order to continue with her education. It was and still is a very tasking thing for her to do. When Washington first shared her story we thought of how unfair that incident was. Her entire life took an abrupt turn.

This story inspired us to brainstorm on how to improve her life took an abrupt turn. This story inspired us to brainstorm on how to improve her life using technology we have today. To a common person this seems rather an absurd idea. But we took up the challenge. The fact that Google has been helping people who lose voice by Neurological voice disorders gave us confidence that our journey might bear fruits. For over the start of the fourth industrial revolution, Artificial Intelligence was first observed experimentally on Star Wars. So we thought we could use AI to help people regain their sight by having an assistant who could look at their surroundings and interpret.

Your goals as you developed the project and challenges faced

As we developed the project, we had our goal of improving the quality of life of the visually impaired at the top of our minds.

One of the challenges we encountered was that as we developed our services, we kept finding some difficulty in using the interface and we had to spend a lot of time making it easier to use. Another issue we encountered was packaging the prototype to make it more presentable, we were however happy with how it turned out and the overall packaging

Performance at Tech Expo

We achieved first place in the Tech Expo. This was a great achievement on our part and we were pleased with it after months of work put in the project. Post the Expo we are looking to improve the project further and bring it into production.

Future plans for your project

Owing to our success in the Tech Expo we have had an increasing demand to test our product and get it to the market. It is now our core intent to come up with a fully-fledged device that is industry standards which we can roll out for testing purposes.

Advice to those thinking about participating in Tech Expo

To those intending to participate in the Tech Expo, remember that the stream beat the rock not due to strength but persistence. So in your Tech Expo journey, keep persisting and do not give up. In due time, you will reap the fruits of your work.

Take home

  • Ideas are great, but it is execution that matters.

    Have a big proponent of sharing ideas to receive initial feedback and enrich startup ecosystems. People are too afraid to share their ideas because they are afraid that valuable intellectual property will be stolen.

  • Adopting a mindset of constant trial and error

    Have the spirit to constantly try new tactics to see what fits. Not having enough focus means that valuable time goes in debating the right strategy without actually trying anything.

  • Building a team culture that includes everyone

    Emphasize the need for a strong company culture that creates a sense of ownership, inclusion and empowerment. We believe in the mantra culture is caught and not taught.

NYWELE NYUMBANI

We are in an age where the market is increasingly becoming rigid while at the same time capricious. Entrepreneurs have to constantly get feedback from their customers to learn what kind of products they demand, how they want it and when they want it. These demands are also changing with time therefore anyone in business has to constantly innovate to satisfy the market so as to stay afloat and have a chance of making profits. Anything less and the business is faced out.

A group of Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology and University Of Nairobi students identified a gap in innovation the hair and cosmetics industry. Mercy Kiptui, Yvonne Elabonga and Victor Mungai have provided the necessary innovation business in this sector require to keep up with customer demands. We had a captivating interview with Mercy Kiptui, one of the founders of Nywele Nyumbani which was show cased at the JKUAT Tech Expo.

The Tech Expo project name

The project, an app is called Nywele Nyumbani. To be honest, it started as a placeholder. But later on, it became our best option because of how direct it is. I mean, you say Nywele Nyumbani, and most people can already guess what the app does.

About the project

Nywele Nyumbani is a mobile application, this app links clients to hair stylists. The app caters for all hair services someone may need: braids, twists, natural hair, chemical hair, dreads or even a shave or cut. Whatever it is, we got you!

 The app works in a very simple manner. A client checks the past works of various stylists, select the best stylist for them, choose a style with a set price and makes an appointment. On the day of the appointment, the stylist arrives at the client’s house or place of agreement for what we call the “experience”. Our app monitors the whole experience and this helps us to create a secure environment for our clients. At the end of the experience, the client rates the stylist and this helps other clients find the stylists best for them.

Source of inspiration

Nywele Nyumbani was inspired by what we call the “hair plight of an African woman”. Our hair, for most women, is naturally hard to maintain. This has led women to travel across towns just to get quality hair styles, or the latest trends. Adding to the fact that the modern woman has a tight schedule, we discovered a niche for an application that lets a user select a stylist and style, and order for an appointment for their hair to be done from the comfort of their homes.

Challenges faced

We faced a myriad of challenges. Majority are related to working towards solving security concerns that both stylists and potential clients had expressed. However, we have addressed this through a number of features that users will find on the application.

Performance at the Tech Expo

We did quite well and received the People’s choice award of the event. It was… a rush

Any future plans for the project

We have lots of plans that I will not discuss today. However, our first and immediate plan is getting our product, Nywele a Nyumbani, to the market. Meanwhile we are improving its features and usability.

Advice for aspiring contestants for JKUAT Tech Expo

 Go for it. Personally, this was my second time participating and each time gave me experiences and lessons that I have found invaluable. The networking opportunities are amazing and can help you grow yourself. However, I would urge everyone who wants to participate to have a reason why they want to do so. If it is in hopes of making money, I want to remind them, and especially us techies, that as much as the technology you innovate may be mind-blowing, the investors and partners you want to meet care on mainly one thing: the money. So don’t go to the expo without a plan in mind on how you, and any other people you get on board, will make money, and how much you will make.

Personally, I cannot wait for Nywele Nyumbani to be operational. I want to shave my head at my own convenience and not wait for long lines before I am served. You too should look out for the app because it will revolutionize the hair and cosmetics industry in Kenya.

Nywele Nyumbani is one of many innovations that illustrate the impact tech is having on businesses. Some dare say, in the near future, all businesses will be run, in one form or another using tech. The big question is, what part will you play?

DRIPPING SOLAR

There is a plethora of inequalities in the world today. The United Nations, UN, has proposed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that if achieved should reduce by a great deal the inequalities experienced by different people of the world. The UN is in collaborations with various governments who are in pursuit of the SDGs. Moreover, young people from various parts of the world are proposing projects and products that if developed, may contribute in achieving the SDGs. I met such students from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) who presented their project at the annual JKUAT Tech Expo. Beatrice Wanjiru, Elijah Makewa, Kevin Nzoika and Nicole Ngatia named their project Dripping Solar.

To know more about Dripping Solar, Elijah Makewa explained more about it.

The name dripping solar

Dripping comes from the fact that the project is on drip irrigation. Solar, on the other hand, is because it is solar powered.

What is dripping solar?

Dripping solar is an automated solar powered drip irrigation. This means that no manual watering is done by a farmer. What the farmer does is to set up a water reservoir that is able to sustain irrigating their farm. The Dripping Solar does not need any electricity from the grid to function. It uses a battery which can be recharged by solar. This project is equipped to help people in areas with adequate solar energy to be able to practice farming and increase agricultural produce for their community and country. This project allows maximization of water use by controlling amount of water used to irrigate the land depending on moisture content of soil and water requirements of the plant being grown.

                           

This project is very sustainable and economical on a small piece of agricultural land.  Scalability, however, is still a problem for those with extensive pieces of farms because of high costs associated with this product.

Goals as Dripping Solar was developed

Our project was inspired by SDGs campaign. We focused on Zero hunger, affordable and clean energy and responsible consumption and production. These are SDGs 2, 7 and 12 respectively. Dripping Solar seeks to boost agricultural production and reduce hunger. The solar focuses on providing clean and renewable energy and the project is such that the dripping irrigation conserves water. To add to this, my colleagues are very passionate about the agricultural sector. They felt the need to contribute and bring a change to the agricultural sector by using their vast knowledge in Electrical Engineering.

Challenges faced while developing the prototype.

We were really excited while developing the prototype. I knew as a group, we had to develop the best prototype since there were other two almost similar projects. We had a few challenges but we managed to work around them. We worked on our project when we were doing our industrial attachments. This made finding time to meet and work on the project very difficult. There was also one time when JKUAT students strike disrupted the progress we had made on developing our prototype. The prototype we had developed was locked up in school after the strike and we had to develop a new prototype from scratch. We also could not find some components needed to develop our prototype in the country. We had to research on alternatives and improvised.

Performance at the Tech Expo.

The project was the 1st runners up at the Tech Expo. We honestly didn’t expect it since it was our first time participating. We really gave this project all we had and we are grateful for how things turned up.

Future plans for the project

We continue to make improvements on our prototype because we want to produce a good final product. We intend to get a partner(s) who can help us manufacture and sell our product.

Advice to those intending to participate in Tech Expo

Tech expo gives students a good platform to practice their presentations skills. Consequently, you get a chance to really learn a lot, to meet like-minded persons and others who aren’t.  I would really encourage all students to participate, if they can.

Elijah and his colleagues are setting a good precedent by stepping up and taking on challenges to reduce the inequalities the world is facing. They are developing a product that may contribute to boosting agricultural produce and reduce hunger. This is an inspiration to students and any other person to make the difference they want to see by suggesting and developing solutions to problems them or their communities are facing.

This Post Has 9 Comments

  1. Benter Ayacko

    Great. Keep up guys, you’ll get our country far in technology! I love what you are doing!

    1. Desmond Ongara Jr.

      The little Eng.Vitalis Ayacko!
      Great innovations here and technical capabilities. Keep soaring high!
      Great insights into the future of engineering…If you keep doing this,We are looking at the next Louis Pasteur or even Archimedes!

  2. Akinyi Oreje

    I have read and understood about the weed robot which is very interesting in terms of saving time and energy. My question is how does the weeding operates especially on maize or beans plantation?

    Otherwise it’s a wise idea to have come up with the weeding robot n I know it will inspire many.

    1. Alvin Okoth

      This is very impressive, agriculture being an Kenyan staple…technology such as this Will definitely improve our rates and produce in the world…keep it up guys

    2. Vitalis Ayacko

      That’s not a problem as the A.I in the weeding robot can be trained to recognize beans and maize on a given farm. Also the height of the crop like maize won’t matter as the A.I will be able to distinguish the type of crop despite it’s height.

  3. Linda Otieno

    This is wonderful and really inspiring. Always remember that a creative man is motivated by the desire to achieve not by the desire to beat others.

  4. Brian

    Weeds are a global menace!They usurp a great sum of money from us farmers!
    This innovation goes a long way to fix this!Can’t wait to get some for my farm!

  5. Desmond Ongara Jr.

    Great insights here!
    Little Eng.Vitalis Ayacko! Proud of you,continue on this trajectory and we may just have the next Louis Pasteur or even Archimedes!
    Am so thrilled your technical capabilities.
    Stay on course little champ! Beautiful innovations here!

  6. Hellen

    Good writing and great insights. Technical beyond my understanding but a must read for everyone .

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