2019 winner of Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation to be announced in Uganda

The UK Royal Academy of Engineering’s annual Africa Prize will be awarded this coming Tuesday, that is June 4, 2019 in Kampala, Uganda. The Africa Prize finalists this year include a smart glove that translates sign language to speech, a peer-to-peer foreign exchange platform for Africa, smart lockers that dispense chronic medicine, and sustainable, affordable housing aimed at women.

(TOP: The 2018 winner of the Africa Prize, Ugandan Brian Gitta – right – from Matibabu, will crown the 2019 winner).

Four finalists have been selected from a shortlist of 16 engineering innovators from across the continent. The finalists represent Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa, and will compete live on stage.

Among the speakers at the event will be Mariéme Jamme, founder of IAMTHECODE and co-founder of Africa Gathering will deliver a keynote speech. She will be joined by Dr Ibilola Amao, founder of Lonadek.

This will be the fifth edition of the Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation (APEI), founded by the UK’s Royal Academy of Engineering, is Africa’s biggest prize dedicated to engineering innovation.

Below are the finalist profiles:

Innovation: Smart Havens Africa

Innovator: Anne K. Rweyora

Country: Uganda

Smart Havens Africa are sustainable, smart homes built using appropriate but affordable technologies, geared towards making home ownership more accessible to African women.

In Africa, only 13% of women have sole-ownership of a home, with three times more men owning homes outright.

The technologies used by Smart Havens Africa include locally designed bricks that use less material, designs that reduce temperatures in the hot Ugandan climate, custom biodigesters, and solar water and electricity installations to keep utility costs down.

A teacher by training, Rweyora began working on the idea after volunteering in South Sudan as a social worker, where she realised the difficulties in attaining home ownership for the average working woman.

“When my father passed away, my mum fought for her rightful ownership of our home, but eventually gave up. This inspired me to create housing opportunities for people like my mum,” says Rweyora.

Smart Havens Africa build houses in areas where homes are predominantly rented out by wealthier landlords. The company finds suitable land, builds affordable and sustainable homes, and then carries out a needs analysis with customers. During construction, the team trains additional artisans, offering bricklaying and other training sessions for free to local men and women.

Only 4.5% of Ugandans can afford typical ‘low-cost homes’, which cost approximately $20,000, while homes built by Smart Havens Africa average just $8,000. The company, now a team of eight and in its fourth year of operation, receives applications from prospective owners – mostly women – who will rent-to-own over a period of only five years.

“There’s no reason housing should be so unattainable – there are plenty of appropriate, affordable technologies to build cost-effective homes. We provide a financing model for houses that don’t cost a fortune to own or run, so that everyone has a chance to own a home.” 

Innovation: KAOSHI

Innovator: Chukwunonso Arinze

Country: Nigeria

KAOSHI is a mobile app that connects people who want to send money across the globe. The app facilitates a peer-to-peer currency exchange, circumventing the need to send money across borders.

The cost of sending money to – and between – African countries is the highest in the world, and can be up to 20% higher than the global average.

“We discovered that the scarcity of foreign exchange services in African countries is a major challenge,” says Chukwunonso Arinze, founder of KOASHI.

KAOSHI tackles the high cost of transferring money, as well as the hassle of long queues at financial institutions, or buying foreign exchange on the black market. The app connects users both within and outside Africa, allowing each to specify the currencies they want to exchange and matching them to users making inverse exchanges. Partnering with African banks allows them to provide the service on a user’s own banking app.

“We want to do for international money transfer what peer-to peer-systems like mobile money have done for domestic payments. Imagine a mother in Ghana being able to send money to her son in California from her mobile phone – KAOSHI is the first of its kind!” 

Innovation: Pelebox Smart Lockers

Innovator: Neo Hutiri

Country: South Africa

Pelebox is a smart locker system designed for public healthcare facilities to dispense medicine to patients with chronic conditions, cutting down on long queues and easing pressure on clinic resources.

Developed by Hutiri and his team for use in the South African healthcare system, the Pelebox is a simple wall of lockers, controlled by a digital system. Healthcare workers stock the lockers with prescription refills, log the medicine on the system, and secure each locker. Pelebox then sends patients a one-time PIN, which they simply enter into the system to unlock their medicine.

South Africa has the biggest antiretroviral therapy programme in the world, with more than 4.7 million patients collecting monthly treatments from public facilities. Pelebox gives those patients access to their medicine within 36 seconds, in contrast to the average 3.5 hours it takes in other facilities.

“The public healthcare system is so often under strain, and Pelebox can take a lot of pressure off clinics that fill repeat prescriptions for regular patients,” says Hutiri.

Innovation: Sign-IO

Innovator: Roy Allela

Country: Kenya

Sign-IO combines a mobile app with smart gloves that track and translate sign language movements into speech in real time.

The intelligent system is being developed in conjunction with young users who have hearing and speech impediments. Hardware embedded in the glove reads the user’s finger movements, and compares these to an internal database of American Sign Language.

The mobile app then translates this to speech immediately – and users can set the gender, pitch and tempo of the voice that represents them.

Kenya has an estimated 600,000 sign language users, and the Sign-IO team aims to set up a local production facility for the components needed for the smart glove to meet the needs of the national market.

Designed with two of his nieces in mind, Allela is learning sign-language himself in order to understand the challenges that the machine learning algorithm is going to face as it develops. Sign-IO, which stands for Sign-Input-Output, is currently being tested by children as young as five.

“We’ve learnt so much from working on this – from how to individualise the voices to creating gloves that kids will wear, and using machine learning for a language that is very emotive,” says Allela. “We’re seeing amazing results that make it all worthwhile.”


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