Anthony Muthungu Karimi, 26, once got electrocuted but that didn’t stop him from creating more than 20 innovations, some of which he’s showcased at local and international competitions, bagging him numerous awards. He tells Nanjinia Wamuswa when the innovation bug bit him and where he wants to take his talent
You recently came from South Africa to represent Kenya in an innovation competition…
Yes, my latest innovation, the Intelligent Blind Stick, was nominated for Advancing Health Care Innovation Africa Award in Johannesburg, South Africa. I went to compete against other youthful innovators from various countries, across Africa. I won.
What is this Intelligent Blind Stick?
The stick uses artificial intelligence features and in case of any object around, it vibrates at the grip making a communication alerting people who are visually impaired, thereby assisting in movement. It also has a buzzer alarm which rings once the battery power is low. It’s also embedded with tiny GPS tracking which provides the location of the blind person to their friends and relatives. During Nairobi Innovation Week 2018, exhibited under Kenya ICT Authority, Cabinet Secretary for ICT Joe Mucheru recommended the innovation to be on Blockchain, a growing list of records, called blocks, which are linked using cryptography.
What are your other innovations?
I have over 20 innovations since secondary school, including; Black Spot Detector, Navigator App, Smart Flooding System, Smart Water Meter, Eco-Friendly Bag, Garbage Monitor App and Stall Booker. Others are Ultrasonic Liquid Monitor, GSM Alcohol Blow, Remote Controlled Lamp, Driving Safety Gadget, Prepaid Door Lock.
Was it always your dream to be in the innovation business?
Not at all. It just came in 2006, while in Class Six at Gathuthi Primary, Nyeri. I successfully made power from the toilet, using old dry cells.
What was the motivation behind toilet power?
I was used to listening to the radio but accessing power was a problem. The cheap dry cells (batteries) l would get didn’t last long, making me miss favourite programmes. I had heard that if you connect old dry cells and drop them into a pit latrine, they would produce power. With the help of science books, l connected them and had power for radio and lighting my house. After several months, it electrocuted me and I was hospitalised for a month. I got afraid and disconnected it.
What was next innovation?
The next came while in Form One at Mathakwa-ini Secondary School, Nyeri. I invented a cheap electric fence with dry cells and using the DC-AC transformers to step up to the AC current. I won during the Kenya Schools Science and Engineering Fair Congress. Every year, l had a different innovation. In Form Two, I had an innovation that would get drying clothes from the line into the house once it start raining and, return them when it stops raining or the sun comes back. In Form Three, l developed a smart electronic egg candling box to allow a clear view of the internal parts of an egg without breaking it. In Form Four, l concentrated on studies and exams.
Where are these innovations?
I have them, and they are all patented. I am engaging with companies to partner with me and commercialise them. l am currently finalising that with two companies.
You joined Karatina University, and left…
Yes, I joined in 2015 to pursue a Bachelor of Education degree in Mathematics and Physics. In my second year, I innovated Black Spot App that warned motorists of black spots and notorious dangerous sections on the road. The university recognised me as the Innovative Student of the Year (2016). Unfortunately, the university wasn’t offering any courses related to my innovations skills. That’s why l deferred, and joined Zetech University, where l have finished studying Computer Engineering. I graduate in November but I am going back to Karatina University to complete my education.
Who is this innovator?
I was born in Tetu, Nyeri County in 1992. I am the last born of four siblings; three boys and a girl. I am the only one in innovations. At times, my siblings and parents ask how l got into this.
What is always on the minds of innovators, like you?
Curiosity. Thinking of innovations and their relevance to the community. For instance, residents of Budalang’i have suffered floods for many years. Curiosity led me to invent Smart Flooding System that alerts residents and emergency centres of imminent floods danger. Ask how something works. If it does not, also ask why.
How are women fairing in innovations?
I have only met very few women in innovation. I think, as a country, we are not giving them priority in innovation and tech. Many women who have ideas abandon them.
So, what’s the solution?
Encourage women by organising innovation exhibitions for women only. Use already established women in tech to preach tech to their fellow women. Once we start believing in them, they too will believe in themselves.
How do you unwind?
I play pool at Zetech while discussing the latest tech. I have been visiting Kenya School for the Blind, talking to students as l test my Intelligent Blind Stick innovation. I do innovation mentorship to students in secondary schools and universities as I showcase my work to the students and advocate the need to be creative and innovative in order to make the society a better place to live.
How many awards under your belt?
Many, won locally and internationally. I won the First Prize Aspiring Innovator Intervarsity Competition 2018. I won the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), the ISHOW 2018 Finalist/Demo Africa Innovation Nairobi Edition, Health Meet Tech Award 2018, AHIA Nominee South Africa Award 2018, Demo Africa Innovation Finalist Nominee Morocco 2018 and many others.
Apart from innovation, what did you want to be?
I wanted to be army officer. If you ask me why, l don’t know. Even when already in innovation, I tried three times before giving up in 2013, 2014 and 2015. In all of these competitions, running was my problem, because l was always among the last. In 2014, I was position 129 out of 142.
Any support from your parents?
I owe my success to them. They have committed thousands of shillings to buying material for me to assemble. Innovation is expensive. If they hadn’t financed everything l wanted, l would have abandoned innovations.
What are the challenges innovators face?
There are many youth with great innovations, but lack of finance and exposure, kills their innovations. We also lack links to other places we can exhibit the innovations, especially at the international level.
Where to from here?
I dream of conquering the world with innovations and finding solutions to problems using innovations.