“Lock and unlock your house with a remote”

Kenya is on a developing trend when it comes to technology and there is no limit to how much we can do to achieve technological goals. Science and technology plays a pivotal role in the development of the economic pillar as stipulated in development blueprint, ‘Vision 2030’ as we know it. Some of those responsible of the creative innovations happen to be young upcoming engineers. Kenya Engineer met with Charles Omondi whose innovations could be the World’s next big thing.

From a humble background in Awasi, Nyanza, Charles’ innovation ability was realized in 2008 and since then he has come up with a number of innovations. One of them is a transformer guard to curb the high rate of transformer oil theft. This has an alarm system which produces warning signals in case of theft and also sends a coded message to alert the electricity company of such theft. Another innovation he has developed is a fire system. Whenever there is a fire break out, the system is able to produce an alarm and send a voice code to alert the fire fighters. In such instances, it also cuts off electricity supply in the whole building thereby reducing its spread through electricity supply line.

His latest innovation, which he refers to as a life changer, is a secure remote controlled door locking and opening mechanism. It has the ability to open doors automatically which comes in handy during fire outbreaks. Using the remote, the door can be locked and unlocked from within a radius of 150metres which is the coverage area. It works as an advance cell phone with a specialized SIM card and a security code. Access to the lock can be controlled by the master phone by adding or deleting numbers from the lock’s memory system. Numbers not on the lock’s memory cannot be used to operate the lock and by this the owner can control the lock system such that it cannot be manipulated from outside.

A key can also be used instead of a remote for instance when the remote is misplaced or lost. Key functions can be activated or deactivated by the cell phone. Once on the key mode, a press switch is used to open.  In case of a bang or undue pressure on the door, a unit on the system can detect this, immediately activate an alarm system and send a message to the owner. There is no worry with the frequent power outages and lack of electricity in some parts of the country since this system uses rechargeable dry cells.

This idea, he says, came to his mind after they had a break-in and some of their valuables including a laptop were stolen. He has since then been developing it and he was recently sponsored to a competition by the National Council for Science and Technology, (NCST) which gives a platform to young innovators to showcase their innovations. His project was listed among the best and for this he got an award of Kshs. 400,000 to help him further improve his ideas. This innovation idea was recently shortlisted among the ten best out of 3,200 others in a competition in USA dubbed ‘Next Big Thing’.

To ‘Engineer’ innovation comes not just as a part time activity but also as a dream and it is in this quest to realize his dream that has made him to defer his studies in order to have enough time for the innovation. He is yet to travel to USA for training.

“Getting to this point has not been easy for me and the biggest challenge I face is criticism,” says Charles, “Whenever I present my ideas to people most of them discourage me and try to look for reasons why my ideas can’t work even when some of them do not have the knowledge in the field.”

This, he says, can be compared with the patient who tries to convince the doctor that his medication won’t work. Even with all these hurdles, Omondi has managed to beat all odds and actualize his ideas with continued improvements. He attributes his success hitherto to some of his friends and family who encourage him and urge him to move on.

This is not a one-man journey and he has also inspired other students to follow his steps. A good number have shown interest in his innovations and he has helped them develop skills like welding, soldering and some machining operations. His future ambitions include opening up a company where innovations can be developed, prototypes manufactured and ideas actualized.

He gets his inspiration from role models such as Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple, Larry Page and Sergey who are the founders of Google and Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook. “In life you need someone to look up to and a mentor to guide you through and keep you strong,” adds Omondi.

Omondi challenges the other engineering students to be innovative and not just learn engineering for exam purposes but use it to get practical solutions to problems facing the society today. “When you learn about a transistor, do not just get the theory. Ask yourself what it can do to you because that is the very basis of engineering. Again, when you get a problem, try to find a solution to that problem.” He also advices them to embrace ICT as it provides a wider platform for creativity and innovation which would encourage them to be self reliant.

Effort is currently being put by the government, private sector and other academic institutions to promote and encourage innovations in the country. Through provision of funds to people who have promising innovations and organizing of exhibitions, young innovators get a platform to showcase their ideas to potential investors.

For us to realize this, we have to engage in innovations and however minor they may seem to be, they could cause a positive impact to the society. If well managed, they could also help curb unemployment hence mitigate poverty which is one of the national goals. Like Peter Drucker says, “Innovation is the specific instrument of entrepreneurship, the act that endows resources with a new capacity to create wealth.”

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