The old adage by the ancient Greek Philosopher, Plato that “necessity is the mother of innovations”, would not have been more applicable then, than it is today. With the outbreak of the indiscriminative Coronavirus pandemic that has left researchers spend sleepless nights trying to find a cure, every effort has become critically necessary to rid the world of this menace.
The scourge has not, and does not seem like it would spare anyone if precautions are not taken by all and sundry looking at the figures declared every other day. The entire world is grappling with the pandemic, leaving no room for even the well-to-do to seek for treatment elsewhere as the case may have been.
It is this urgent search for a solution that compelled five research students from the Pan African University (Institute for Basic Sciences, Technology and Innovation (PAUSTI) domiciled at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) to invent an Automatic Solar Powered Hand Washing Machine, which the Cameroonian lead research student, Willy Tounsi, a PhD Electrical Engineering majoring in Power Systems says, “would help the community around Juja and elsewhere keep off this scourge if the explicit instructions the hand washing machine gives as one attempts to wash his hands are followed to the latter”.
With other four fellow researchers, Filston Rukerandanga, a PhD Electrical Engineer (Telecommunication option) from Burundi, two Masters of Science students in Mechanical Engineering, Destine Mashava from Zimbabwe and Pauline Mwambe from Uganda, and Yves Jouontso from Cameroon (pursuing his Masters in Civil Engineering at PAU), Tounsi says their effort, coming from different countries in Africa, was a representative of the solutions Africa was looking for: a cost effective working innovation that would easily be escalated to local communities across African countries considering that the challenges were similar. The students are supervised by Prof. George Nyakoe from JKUAT’s College of Engineering and Technology (COETEC).
The system developed at JKUAT’s engineering workshop incorporates some bit of intelligence purposely fitted to avoid wastage of soap and water that is used when one washes his hands. The machine which is fitted with a sensor also has a provision for the installation of a thermometer meant to measure individuals’ temperature as they washed their hands.
According to Eng. Dr. Peter Kihato, the Manager at JKUAT’s engineering workshop, most of the materials and applications used to develop the automatic hand washing machine were locally fabricated at the workshop. He says the machine can be used even in the remotest areas of Africa that did not have power by people who wished to cleanse or sanitize to avoid the Covid -19 pandemic.
How the Solar Powered Automatic Handwashing Machine works:
According to Tounsi, the lead researcher, the innovation targets local communities and is aimed at helping in the fight against Covid -19 or any other related case. It has a sensor that detects every step when one wants to wash his hands. Immediately one draws his hands closer to the two fitted taps, the machine would sense the move and within a second, would dispense soap. The individual will then be allowed 15 seconds to scrab his hands, and within the next 15 seconds, water would be flowing for the individual to rinse his hands. Should the time allocated not be sufficient, the machine after sensing the same, would additional extend the flow for another five seconds after which it would automatically switch off, in readiness for the next user.
To comply with the Government’s call for people to adhere to safety precautions in order to avoid contracting the Corona virus, the system is fitted with a Liquid Display Unit (LCD) that instructs the user in both English and Kiswahili languages on what to do as he prepares to wash his hands. For instance, immediately one places his hands below the tap, the system digitally alerts the individual that he is about to receive soap, it then instructs the person to scrub his hands, and two seconds later, one is alerted that it is time to receive the water to rinse his hands. At the end of the hand washing exercise, the system finally advises the individual to KEEP SOCIAL DISTANCE. It is indeed, an interesting step by step process.
To avoid a situation where water in the storage tank could be depleted without the knowledge of the user, the system is fitted with three light display alerts of green, yellow and red colours, where green would signify full tank, yellow mid full, and red, empty tank that would require filling up.
While commenting on the innovation, the Director of Pan African University Prof. Gabriel Magoma said Covid-19 was a global challenge that took everyone by surprise, noting that the efforts by the students to contribute towards finding a solution to the pandemic through their project was highly commendable. He appreciated the funding input from the African Union towards the various projects being undertaken by PAU students that were meant to benefit society in the region.