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Techie makes biometric register from e-waste

By Brian George | August 25th 2021

Phillip Nganda (pictured) cuts a lean figure and talks less. But make no mistake, the techie is an outlier. He keeps heaps of electronic wastes in his Imara Daima house, which he uses to make biometric log-in systems that are used in schools for registering student attendance. The products are the first of Ruphids Autotech, his firm. 

The 32-year-old trained teacher observed that the rate at which girls were getting pregnant and absconding school in his rural home in Kitui, was too high.

“Parents would come complaining that their children are truant, some reported to have never stepped school weeks after being released from home. I just thought there had to be a better way,” he recalled.

Coupled with an existing failure of imported biometric log-in systems, he saw the perfect opportunity to make a difference in society. He had since developed an interest in tech and related disciplines, and not even his education degree could hold him back. He developed real-time tech hardware from soft metal, old fuses, old wires, worn-out magnetic equipment and plastics.

With his soldering gun and electronic waste, he models, programmes and develops a box that can be mounted at entry points of malls, offices, schools and by putting the thumb on the biometric identifier, it logs in and sends a message to the parent, that their child has checked into school. 

“My innovation is a purely offline device which uses sim-card in it just like a feature phone and cloud computing. So the question of the internet is not a cause for alarm. It can live for the next three years in the wildest of jungles, provided it has dry cell battery,” he said. 

As it is, anyone can use and access the machine, provided you have been authorised by the user or the institution. No servers are needed to access it. You can also load the student information and also delete it.

“I added new features like the cloud backup that enables teachers to access the information anywhere in the world.”

But for him to come up with the device, he has had his fair share of setbacks. One is that being a startup he has to produce at home, so time is a big issue, a variable that impacts directly on production output volumes.

And just like many other startups, market access and market validation is another key challenge.

“Those sales are not guaranteed. You may walk into a school, they place an order or even pick your wares but they may not pay upfront. So you have to wait again, sometimes for months on end to get paid.” 

But he still pushes on. He has another set of innovations to his name, some of which he is yet to patent.  

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