Africa Prize announces finalists for the continent’s largest engineering innovation award

Scalable engineering innovations were created to address high gas prices by retrofitting motorbikes to run on batteries; easily diagnose and treat uterine health issues without anaesthetic; recycle lithium-ion laptop batteries into power packs for affordable electricity; and connect local communities through a digital rescue network to form community policing groups; have been selected as finalists for the prestigious Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation 2023.

The Africa Prize, founded by the UK’s Royal Academy of Engineering in 2014, is Africa’s biggest prize dedicated to engineering innovation.

The ninth winner will be announced in Accra, Ghana, on 6 July 2023, and will be awarded £25,000, with the other three finalists receiving £10,000 each.

This year’s finalists are from Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, and Uganda, each of which is home to a previous Africa Prize winner. One of these nations will therefore see the selection of its second Africa Prize recipient in 2023.

The four finalists were selected from a shortlist of 15 African innovators for their proven ability to harness engineering to address common problems faced by Africans across the continent.

The innovations tackle challenges central to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, including good health and wellbeing, affordable and clean energy, peaceful and inclusive societies, and reduced inequalities.

2023 finalists

Chukwuemeka Eze, a Nigerian electrical engineer, developed the Revive Kit, a modular e-mobility service used to convert gas-powered three-wheeled motorbikes to run on rechargeable lithium-ion batteries. Drivers can save up to 60% in operational costs, including gas or petrol, and 90% in maintenance costs.

Eze’s company also trains technicians in the use of the kit. The Revive Kit includes lithium-ion batteries, an AC induction motor, a retrofit shaft and an electronic controller, which acts as the inverter.

It also includes a vehicle-to-home power adapter.  Hall-effect sensors interface the throttle and the motor to the controller to determine and regulate motor speed. Other sensors monitor the vehicle’s battery and location, engine performance, motor temperature, and maintenance requirements.

On a single charge, the smart battery rack accepts modular batteries and can accommodate batteries for a range of up to 120 kilometers on an average load of 320 kilograms.  The vehicle-to-home integration can provide power to charge devices in off-grid homes or during power failures.

The modular battery and the smart battery racks can also be used by third-party agents in building battery booths for a battery-swapping network that uses mobile technology to keep drivers informed on the availability of charged batteries. This eliminates charge downtime and reduces pressure on the grid/supply.

“With surging fuel prices in Africa, the Revive Kit aims to be part of the solution. Too many drivers are spending over 60% of their revenue on petrol and maintenance; we aim to deliver an affordable and sustainable transport system which is environmentally friendly.”

Edmund Wessels, a South African biomedical engineer, developed FlexiGyn, a battery-powered portable handheld device enabling gynaecologists to diagnose and treat a woman’s uterus without anaesthetic or expensive equipment, increasing women’s access to reproductive healthcare, particularly in remote areas.

Typical hysteroscopy systems are rigid, leading to high levels of patient discomfort, and requiring bulky additional equipment for visualisation.  This innovative device offers a more comfortable and efficient experience for both patients and healthcare providers. In addition to the hardware, Wessels and his team are developing integrated software solutions that seamlessly connect the FlexiGyn device with existing medical practice systems.

This integration connects OB/GYN specialists with GPs, radically increasing the frequency of diagnoses. Streamlining patient scheduling, electronic health record synchronization and AI-assisted diagnosis, it optimizes women’s healthcare delivery. Improved efficiency and collaboration enable healthcare professionals to diagnose and treat patients more frequently, enhancing the overall quality of care.

“We’ve developed a system that aims to improve women’s health through better point-of-care diagnostics.  Designed for both the physician and patient, our solution is an intuitive, user-friendly device that is more comfortable for the patient thanks to its flexible design.”

Gibson Kawago, a Tanzanian electrical engineer, developed the WAGA PAWA Pack, a rechargeable power source created from recycled laptop lithium-ion batteries, providing a reliable and affordable electricity source.

Batteries are tested over two to four weeks to ensure conformity to the manufacturer’s standard. Once assembled, the pack has an output of either 12, 24, 36 or 48 DC volts, or inverted to 203 or 110 AV volts, suitable for different applications, including powering lights, appliances and heaters.

Battery cells are fused together with nickel strips and enclosed in an aluminum case before being connected to a battery monitoring and protection system with sensors to monitor performance and detect changes in temperature, current and voltage, which are communicated via a display screen.

The system is connected to a mobile app to enable users to monitor performance. The pack comes with ports that can be connected to inverters, solar lamps and other chargers, and can be fully recharged in up to three hours. The packs are recharged by solar panels.

“WAGA Power Packs provide low-carbon power to homes and allow businesses to keep operating after sundown. Depending on the size of the battery and its purpose, it can provide electricity for anywhere from thirteen hours to one month. We are striving to change the lives of Tanzanians, particularly those in resource-scarce rural areas.”

Anatoli Kirigwajjo, a Ugandan software engineer, developed YUNGA, a local digital security network that connects neighbours to each other and police within a 20km radius via a physical device, smartphone app or SMS service, providing security at a low cost. Communities are divided into networks of 10 to 30 households, each receiving a device connected to a local area network. In cases of emergency, pressing a button sets off a load alarm on all devices connected to the network, and sends a message with the victim’s details to other devices, prompting a community response.

The system includes motion sensors for when users leave their homes or businesses. YUNGA also operates in areas with no internet through a long-range wide area network. YUNGA reduces response times from hours to the shortest time possible for members of the network to reach someone in danger.

“I developed YUNGA after losing USD 1,300 worth of assets in a break-in, with little chance of the thieves being caught. We hope that with our household networks, communities will become harder targets for criminals. This will ensure safety, which in turn will create the space for economic activities to thrive.”

The finalists were chosen by the Royal Academy of Engineering after receiving support over eight months to help them accelerate their businesses.

This included comprehensive and tailored entrepreneurship training, sector-specific engineering mentoring, communications support, pitching opportunities, and access to the Academy’s network of high-profile, experienced engineers and business experts in the UK and across Africa.

The 2023 finalists will pitch their innovations to a panel of five judges and a live and online audience in Accra on 6 July.