South Africans vie for Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation

Ernst Pretorius’s Draadsitter (Afrikaans for fence sitter) detects tampering on fences of up to 800m, allowing for a quick response before the fence is breached. The device also detects fires. It’s a simple concept, but one with greater ramifications for landowners who need to protect their properties.

The invention is one of 11 others to be shortlisted for the Royal Academy of Engineering’s Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation, which “aims to stimulate, celebrate and reward innovation and entrepreneurship in sub-Saharan Africa’. The award recognises especially those inventions that sustainably solve problems in local settings, highlighting how important engineering is to improving quality of life.

Speaking to Engineering News, Royal Academy fellow and chair of the judging panel Malcolm Brinded said the shortlisted candidates would now participate in a training and mentoring programme over the next six months, working with business executives and engineering experts. He said, “The training will be focused on proving, scaling up and commercialising their engineering innovations.’

Brinded added that “Deciding on the shortlist was extremely difficult as the standard was high, and the entrepreneurial talent was clear to see.’

Pretorius, from the University of Pretoria, will join Cape Peninsula University of Technology’s Dr Reinhardt Kotze on the training programme. Kotze’s shortlisted Flow- Viz is an industrial process and quality control system that reduces dependence on laboratory testing, improving efficiency on the production line.

After completing the training and mentorship programme, the finalists will present their inventions, after which the winners and two runners-up will be awarded £25 000 (about R457 000) and £10 000 respectively.

The competing finalists from the rest of Africa are:

  • University of Nairobi’s Samuel Njugana Wangui, for Chura, a web-based system that allows users to move airtime between their different SIMs regardless of carrier;
  • The Nigerian Army Transformation and Innovation Centre’s Captain Abubakar Surajo, for his removable window burglar-bar system;
  • Nigeria Tolulupe Ajuwape from the University of Ibadan for a mobile payment application, which allows merchants and customers to make and receive card payments using their phones and tablets;
  • A mechanical system to prepare clear banana juice from Dr Oscar Kibazohi, University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania & Makerere University, Uganda;
  • A sand-based water filtration system to provide clean, safe drinking water from Dr Askwar Hilonga at The Nelson Mandela African Institute of Science and Technology, Tanzania;
  • An environmentally friendly precision fertiliser applicator from Musenga Silwawa at the Zambia Agriculture Research Institute;
  • Latrine systems to improve urban sanitation from Samuel Malinga from Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda;
  • A small-scale crushing machine for sustainable gold mining from Rujeko Masike at the Harare Institute of Technology, Zimbabwe;
  • A mobile phone application to teach children the local Shona language from the University of Zimbabwe’s Ian Mutamiri; and
  • A low-cost biodegradable degreaser for mining, agriculture and manufacturing from Chinenye Justin Nwaogwugwu from the Federal University of Technology in Owerri, Nigeria.

Entries for the 2015 version would open once this round of the prize concludes, said Brinded.

“We are looking forward to the next phase, and the next round of applications in April 2015. I hope all ambitious African engineering entrepreneurs will start planning for that opportunity.”

The Africa Prize is supported by The Shell Centenary Scholarship Fund, Consolidated Contractors Company, ConocoPhillips and the Mo Ibrahim Foundation.

SAinfo reporter