It sounds like the magic wand we have all been waiting for, but it is better. It is a real piece of unparalleled science right from the cooking pot of the University of Livingstonia (Unilia) in Malawi. They call it a Smart Stick and it can detect moisture, distance and light, its goal being to help the visually impaired walk around with no human assistance. Do you know what the kicker is? It was developed by Unilia final year students!
The Smart Stick was unveiled at Unilia’s Computer Engineering, Public Health, and Food Security and Nutrition Symposium on the 6th of October. Tikhala Mwale, one of the developers, said, “This is a breakthrough for people with blindness challenges. They will no longer struggle to walk on their own as the stick guides them wherever they go. We have devised this stick in such a way that it uses three feelings of moisture, distance and light which enables them to automatically receive audio directions whenever they are walking even during the night.”
Yes, he said even during the night. Eyes fail you at night but not the Smart Stick! Mwale then added that the stick uses cell batteries which are readily available and affordable to people who live in remote areas. While other Smart Sticks available on the market use rechargeable batteries that require electricity, this is a clever idea that only Africans would understand. This Smart Stick is the perfect prototype of Africa-centred innovation (by Africans for Africans) which covers the contextual nuances of the market.
On the event of the reveal, the Director of Health Technical Services in the Ministry of Health, Dr Benson Chilima said, “This clearly demonstrates that as students who will be graduating in a few days’ time, you are ready to help the country offer solutions to a number of challenges that the country is facing. The industry out there needs graduates who are valuable and ready to give solutions that they have learnt from the four years they have been studying.”
Africa is awaiting such trailblazers to offer solutions to the continent’s most pressing issues using technology. The Unilia team is an inspiration to the rest of the continent and should challenge other students and even industry captains to start making moves that make sense in the global landscape. The talent is there. The resources are there. What then is stopping us? Nothing but ourselves!
Earlier this year, Ghanaian students at All Nations University in Koforidua also captured our imagination by developing a satellite that was launched in July. In 2014, Khaled Shady, who was 22 again grabbed world headlines after inventing a navigational aid wearable belt for the visually-impaired. He was studying at the Menoufia University in Egypt. Our universities are coming to the party and there is no stopping Africa now. The coming generation of inventors and entrepreneurs clearly means business and understands the needs of the continent.