Peter West, British High Commissioner to Uganda met with three Ugandan innovators shortlisted for the 2020 ‘Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation’ award.
Launched in 2014 by the UK’s Royal Academy of Engineering, the annual Africa Prize awards crucial commercialisation support to innovators who are transforming local communities across Africa.
The Prize has a track record of identifying engineering entrepreneurs with significant potential, who, with the support of the Prize, have gone on to achieve greater commercial success and social impact.
The Ugandan inventions, demonstrated to the High Commissioner at the event, include:
PapsAI by Dr William Wasswa, which is a series of software and hardware innovations that make cervical cancer screening, diagnosis and patient record management faster and more efficient;
Remot by David Tusubira which is both a hardware and software system that monitors and manages the performance, usage and health of solar photovoltaic (PV) panel installations and
The Eco Water Purifier by Timothy Kayondo, which is a water filter, made from animal bones, cassava peels, and other waste materials. Running off solar panels, the purifier is ideal for rural schools and clinics.
The entrepreneurs applied for the Africa Prize last year and underwent a three-stage review process in order to be shortlisted.
They will now benefit from an eight-month package of support, which includes comprehensive and tailored business training, bespoke mentoring, funding and access to experienced engineers and business experts, to help them accelerate their businesses.
Following this period of support four finalists will be selected and invited to pitch their improved innovation and business plans to judges and a live audience in a showcase event in June in Accra, Ghana. The winner will receive £25,000, and three runners up receive £10,000.
In his remarks to guests, the High Commissioner said ‘The point of the prize is to identify and support outstanding engineering entrepreneurs whose ideas have potential for commercialisation and to transform local communities. You can be proud to be shortlisted and I wish you every success in emulating your countryman Brian Gitta, who won the prize in 2018.”
In 2018, the winner was Ugandan Brian Gitta for his invention Matibabu, which tests for malaria without drawing blood. The device is a low-cost and reusable tool that clips onto a patient’s finger, requiring no specialist expertise to operate. The results are available within one minute on a mobile phone that is linked to the device.
Launched in 2014, the Prize aims to stimulate, celebrate and reward innovative engineers from across the continent.
Dr William Wasswa (PapsAI)
PapsAI is a series of software and hardware innovations that make cervical cancer screening, diagnosis and patient record management faster and more efficient.
Conventionally, pap-smear images are analysed manually, which is time consuming, error-prone and has to be done by a trained cytopathologist. Cervical cancer risk factor analysis is also not incorporated into this process, and the digital microscopes required are expensive, which means they are few and far between in low-income countries. Low cost microscopes are used, but then slides can’t be digitally stored for analysis.
Dr Wasswa, the head of Mbarara University’s biomedical engineering department at only 30 years old, developed a digital microscope slide scanner to quickly scan high-resolution cervical cell images from pap-smears. The youngest engineer to complete his doctorate at his university, Wasswa 3D-prints the parts for the device, which costs nearly a quarter of the price of commercial microscopes.
Not satisfied with merely speeding up the scanning of cells, Wasswa has also created an analysis tool for diagnosis and classification of the images. His system, which has been published in peer-reviewed academic journals, has had between 90 and 100% accuracy during testing.
Building on the knowledge base of doctors and experts, Wasswa went further to design software which automatically assesses the likelihood of a patient contracting cervical cancer given their risk factors, and a separate system for managing and archiving patients’ records using artificial intelligence.
The PapsAI system is currently being tested at a local hospital, and Wasswa hopes it will bridge the healthcare gap by providing relevant solutions at an affordable price.
David Tusubira (Remot)
Remot is both a hardware and software system that monitors and manages the performance, usage and health of solar photovoltaic (PV) panel installations.
Created by Tusubira and his team mates, the system gives solar companies more than just data about their customers’ energy use. Remot also examines the system itself for inefficiencies and potential problems.
Battery health, for example, is crucial to PV installations but, despite manufacturers’ guarantees, they fail without warning. Remot monitors battery health to give solar companies more control over the lifespan of their installations, and help prevent power outages.
Manufactured on site at their offices in Kampala, the hardware device is nicknamed ‘Davix’ after the co-founder. Tusubira met his colleagues in school before they studied together at Makerere University. They then started a business training and re-selling electronics to engineering students, but the team repeatedly came across challenges in solar energy – complex systems, mismanagement and corruption, and a lack of monitoring and evaluation.
Four years on, Remot runs in nearly 500 schools, 11 solar maize mills, and solar water pumps on office blocks in the DRC, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, with samples in use in Ethiopia. The team helps solar companies, energy consultants and energy donors – common in East Africa – run pay-as-you-go systems. These help justify investment, by showing usage patterns, and also help plan future installations by evaluating older ones.
Timothy Kayondo (Eco Water Purifier)
The Eco Water Purifier is a water filter made from animal bones, cassava peels, and other waste materials. Running off solar panels, the purifier is ideal for rural schools and clinics.
Kayondo, an industrial chemist graduate from Makerere University, examined how quickly the chlorine in Kampala’s public water supply decays between the reservoirs and residents’ taps. Chlorine, added to purify water, disappears by the time water flows into a home. This finding spurred the serial innovator on to devise a system that would ensure public facilities like schools and clinics would have clean drinking water.
Cattle bones, cassava peels and other waste, which he buys from farmers across the country, are cleaned, fired in a vacuum-sealed furnace, soaked in an acidic solution, washed in distilled water, and then crushed into activated carbon.
Water is brought to the purifier from tanks or surface water by a solar pump, run through a sand filter, then the carbon filter, and finally through a UV light (also run by the solar panels). The whole system fits into a portable box about the size of a large suitcase, easy to carry and secured against theft. An internal battery stores energy from the solar panel. The system can purify 300 litres of water an hour.