• He has filed for a patent to protect the algorithm, believed to be the first such by a Kenyan.
•It also has a tamper-proof black box; in case of an accident, all data can be retrieved to help establish the cause.
A speed governor invented by a University of Nairobi student has been approved by authorities to compete with devices in China.
It slows down vehicle automatically according to speed limits set by the National Transport and Safety Authority.
A vehicle fitted with the Gentec HB 002 speed governor will automatically begin to slow down when, for instance, a driver enters a 30kpm zone around schools.
It features the only locally developed intelligent speed assistance system that warns drivers when approaching bumps and potholes.
Users of Gentec pay Sh25,000 to Sh35,000 for installation and a much lower annual subscription fee than other speed governors.
“Our aim is to reduce accidents,” says Nicholas Kimali, the 32-year-old electronics specialist and inventor who guided the development.
“Remember in 2016 when a fuel tanker hit an unmarked speed bump in Naivasha and exploded, killing more than 33 people in the vehicles behind it?” he asks. This speed governor would have prevented that, the inventor says.
Kimali says the Gentec speed limiter works as a vehicle's black box. In case of an accident, all the data can be retrieved to help establish the cause.
“If you tamper with it, it can show. So we have made it tamper-proof because that’s a requirement by the NTSA. It has many features and you can enable and disable the features that are not required by the law,” he says.
Kimali, an engineering graduate of UoN, led the development at the Maker Space, the university’s innovation laboratory and incubation centre based at Upper Kabete Campus.
He has filed for patent to protect the algorithm, believed to be the first such by a Kenyan.
“This was my master's project at the School of Computing and Informatics at Chiromo campus,” he says.
“The speed limiter uses telematics and will adapt to different speed limits along the road,” he says.
Recently, the Kenya Bureau of Standards and the NTSA both approved the Gentec HB 002 speed governor, giving it the green light for the market.
All public service vehicles in Kenya must be fitted with speed governors, a Sh6 billion market. NTSA recently announced all the PSVs must be re-fitted with smart governors — which can relay real-time speed data — ahead of their regular inspections.
Kimali says although the speed governor is locally designed, production is in China because it is cheaper.
“We made the first prototype here. The quality is extremely good. But the challenge was the time and the cost. In China, there’s cheap labour and so to compete with others in the market we had to go there,” he says.
The Maker Space is part of the University of Nairobi’s Science and Technology Park headed by veteran public health expert Prof Richard Ayah.
It is supported by Concern Worldwide, and biomedical engineers and clinicians from the Kenyatta National Hospital.
The centre offers internships to students who are mentored to design homegrown health equipment.
Kimali says he has always tinkered with smart gadgets since he joined the School of Engineering in 2007 as a first-year student. When he completed the course in 2013, he was part of the team that entered an energy-saving device in the NASA Space App Challenge.
I had a well-paying job. There was transport every day, I was picked in the morning and dropped home every evening. I knew I would earn less but it was okayInventor Nicholas Kimali
It won the People’s Choice Award. He was immediately hired by a local company to design a Kenyan-made motherboard for a tablet, which he successfully did within eight months.
“We thought the government would support the project but that didn’t happen. In time the company could not sustain us, so I left,” he says. In 2015 he was hired by computer giant IBM for six months at their innovation lab at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa.
“We were basically doing hardware design and making drivers,” he says. Kimali describes his decision to quit employment in 2016 as the hardest ever.
“I had a well-paying job. There was transport every day, I was picked in the morning and dropped home every evening. I knew I would earn less but it was okay.”
His new ‘office’ is an open hall workshop. On various corners are students tinkering, creating, building and inventing the next big thing. They have already successfully made a suction machine to remove substances such as blood, saliva, mucus and vomit from a person's airways.
Kimali mentors in smart electronics, answering questions and setting up the equipment for users who are not familiar with the technology.
(Edited by V. Graham)