KELVIN MBEWE, Lusaka
INSTITUTIONS of higher learning have turned many individuals into intellectuals, especially those with the passion for the course they pursue.
Despite having a lot of institutions of higher learning in the country, very few stand out when it comes to provision of quality education.
The theoretical part of most courses offered at institutions of higher learning is top notch while the practical part is not as much.
But students at the University of Zambia (UNZA) School of Engineering thought outside the box to enhance the practical aspect of their learning.
Two years ago, the students formed the UNZA Students’ Research Group (SRG), which was incorporated into the UNZA Engineering Society (UZES) and, together, they have been applying what they learn in class.
With a contribution of K100 per term, the mechanical and electrical and electronics students, with the help of their lecturer and researcher Jasper Hatilima, have designed various useful equipment such as a Go-Kart, a robot, a pedestrian access for students, which uses swiping to access, among others.
Their latest invention is an energy-efficient vehicle. This invention is meant for a competition called the Shell Eco-Marathon.
The competition, which will take place at the University of Johannesburg, South Africa, will bring together different universities in Africa to race with their inventions.
The prizes of the competition are in different categories such as the best battery power of the vehicle, and the best combustion, among others.
This reporter met the brains behind the design of the energy-efficient vehicle to understand how they came up with this master piece, which is the first in the country.
Reporter: How is it different from a normal vehicle?
Samson Kakote: Our car is a prototype [a prototype is a rudimentary working model of a product or information system, usually built for demonstration purposes or as part of the development process]. It is a car that is designed for efficiency, and it doesn’t look like the ordinary cars that we see on our roads. It’s different in structure and is designed to move freely without resistance.
Reporter: How did you come up with the design?
Samson Kakote: We divided ourselves into what we call companies, the power and electronics company, and the chassis company. The power and electronics company were responsible for designing the electric system of the vehicle (battery, motor and other electronic systems the car has).
The mechanical company is responsible for designing the frame, which is the body of the vehicle, and as a team, we are in different companies and each company has a manager and these seat and discuss and work on the ideas that they come up with.
Reporter: At which stage are you in developing this vehicle?
Mwiinde Hamwata: Right now, we have passed the design phase, we have designed the electric circuit of the vehicle and we have done some designs for the frame and the body. Currently, we are sourcing for funds to buy the material to make the actual car.
Despite succeeding in designing the vehicle, the students lack funds to buy the body parts required to assemble the product.
Reporter: What efforts have you put in place to get sponsors on board?
Thandiwe Tembo: We have invited different potential sponsors for the relaunch of the student research group and have invited the corporate world to come and see some of the projects that we have invented and hopefully they will come on board. The relaunch of SRG will take place on July 26, 2017.
The only lady in the group of engineers said they want to engage sponsors permanently and not just for a short term.
Reporter: There will be a lot of other universities participating, what makes you confident of winning?
Thandiwe Tembo: We are underdogs and no one knows what to expect from us and I think this gives us an upper hand. And the fact that this is not part of our curriculum, but we are still very passionate about it, that is what gives us the confidence. And we have done a lot of research to make the car as efficient as possible.
In conclusion, Ms Tembo called on the corporate world to come to their aid.
“We can invent a lot of things but if people don’t give us a chance, our ideas will remain on the shelf. This is an opportunity that we have been looking for. That is another reason why we are going to win, because we know what is at stake,” she said.
And National Energy Sector and Allied Workers Union (NESAWU) secretary general Manson Mutambo has commended the students for being innovative.
“If they win, they will put Zambia on the map. It’s like a game of football; when the team wins, it’s not only the footballers that celebrate but the whole country. Let us support them fully and not let them down. Such innovations have the capacity to help the country succeed. Today, it’s an energy-efficient vehicle, next it will be a plane,” he said.