These young Ugandans; David Lwangwa Mwesigwa 22 – Graphics Designer and Team Lead, Mubiru Joel 22– In charge, Research, Chemyolei Paul 22– Business Development Guy and Moris Atwine 21 – Software Development Lead have come together to develop a mobile phone app that seeks to help the blind people use their mobile phone without any assistance. David’s brother became blind when he was 10. This unfortunate incident turned into questions that David sought to solve. He felt bad that even as his brother grew older and owned a mobile phone, there are those basics that his brother could not enjoy. He met amazing friends at Makerere university that he has worked with to create Visual+. Visual+ is a gesture based interaction and voice commands mobile application that helps a visually impaired person to manage the frequently used applications on phones as making calls and accessing music files.
What in the world is Visual+?
Many times, human rights are echoed in our ears about how it’s our right to have freedom of speech, right to life and more often we hear that major right, a right to education.
Visual+ is simply an easy to use gesture based interaction and voice commands mobile application that manages the most frequently used applications on a mobile device.
How does doe this awesome app work?
Visual+ works in such way that, a user (visually impaired person) is required to be putting on headsets at the time of initiation to clearly listen to the voice prompts and to enhance your interaction with the app as it uses voice.
To initiate, the user shuffles the mobile device which activates the application.
There are four features on the home screen which include phone, music, notes and personal.
- By swiping to the right, the gesture helps the user to access prerecorded audio notes that are stored on the mobile device as audio books, quotes and many more.
- A user swiping down, this gesture brings a lot of personalization tools that can be used by the user such as recording their own notes or speeches. A user is then prompted to swipe the screen to a given direction for app to register their choice for example swiping screen to the right to make a recording of their own.
- By swiping to the left, the gesture helps the user access his or her music, reading material. A list of all these choices is displayed on screen, also echoed in user’s ear piece. The user will then swipe to the left in order to listen to the music list, or swipe to the right to play the stored music.
- By swiping up, this gesture displays the phone menu where a user can add a phone number and be able to make a call of his/her choice using voice prompts. For example call Moris, once it’s saved, it processes the call automatically.
- For a user to go back to a previous screen as well exit the application, he / she simply double taps the screen.
What problems does it seek to solve?
World health Organization (1997) estimated the number of visually impaired people worldwide to be 135 million.
Focusing on Uganda as a country, the number of visually impaired people has gone up to 1 million from 700,000 people (National Union of Disabled Persons, 2008). This group of people also has the required facilities that are not readily accessible in various parts of the country. More to this, the students with these facilities also have a challenge in accessing reading material for the blind, printing notes in brail or even playing educative games. Visual impairment is a great challenge worldwide.
What other opportunities do you think this app is likely to create?
Yes, Partnerships with telecom companies as well as phone companies!
Where do you draw your inspiration?
One of our team members, David has a brother who is blind, he has seen him fail to achieve most of the things and so thought he would really change such pressing problem through innovation. He then teamed up with Joel, Paul and Moris and that was the birth of Visual+.
What is your greatest achievements so far?
We were able to pitch it at the Humanitarian Innovation Exhibition Last Month, the feedback was promising, basically how it would be of great help to people in refugee camps and disaster affected areas.
Mainly, we haven’t really achieved much with this mobile app, we are still testing it with different groups to clearly understand how the blind or people with low vision can interface with these smart phones.
Does tech have a future in Uganda?
Technology in Uganda is like a child, ambitious and inquisitive. That’s why it’s really growing very fast
Are there times you have wanted to give up?
Not on the Visual+ app because passion is all we have for technology and there is a lot to be solved really. All in all, We are not about to give up.
What keeps you going during tough times?
We have the best solutions to most of these social problems affecting us, this may not necessarily be through technology, innovation as a process can have a considerable effort in changing most of problems we face, and in the end become our businesses.
What other projects have you worked on?
As a group, we haven’t worked on other mobile applications but some of the members Moris and David are among the brains behind the timely response and early diagnosis breast cancer management app called “BreastIT”. More info to this app is available on the project’s blog site www.thehyphengloveproject.wordpress.com
Any last words to the reader?
We have never set out to become founder or co-founders of a great innovation, we always seek to tackle most of these pressing problems in and around our community” – Moris Atwine, Co-Founder and Software Development Lead, Visual+.
Makerere University Students Build Computer from Scratch
BY MARVIN MUTYABA & ISAIAH NGABIRANO
Computers today have become part of our lives that basically most of the things we need are in these machines. With so many benefits like quick information and communication, entertainment, entrepreneurship, activism and so much more, the computer use has become an extension of the human fabric.
The growing movement of digital migration in the world has opened a worldwidedemandfor innovation and inventionwhich has given rise to the exceptional programmers and inventors who have created appliances and tools that have revolutionized the way we do everything. This picture features Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Nikola Tesla among other inventors.
In Uganda, a group of youths have added their names to this list by building an organic computer, using their knowledge from school and exposure to computers.
The group is spear headed by Ivan Karugaba Junior, a student of mechanical engineering at Makerere University who gained inspiration to develop a computer through personal experiences
“One evening at campus my computer was stolen and this got me asking myself why couldn’t I develop my own computer since that’s what we learn in class,” he narrates “Developing the first prototype of the computer was not an easy one and it involved a lot of research and commitment from the team. There were so many lows but we worked as a team and persisted until we came up with a functioning computer, it was a huge achievement to us.”
Having done his internship in Shenzhen,the high-tech hub of China, Ivan gained a lot of experience in developing computers and established some connections as well. This has helped in steering the development of their computer.
When he returned from the one month internship, Ivan decided to start acompany with some colleagues from school, Ochieng Elvis a computer engineer, Etwalu Emmanuel a mechanical engineer, AineamaniTwesigye a software engineer and Nyakoojo Oscar an industrial artist which they called Microfuse, after their computer.
Microfuse is a multipurpose device that can function as a computer at the same time as a media box with the capability to use a low power consumption of a rate of 5w connected to any display, projector, monitor or TV and a computing functionality as Microsoft office. It can also turn any TV into a smart TV, enable access to online connection, live TV and radio channels. All these marvelous features are to come at a simple price of UGX 350,000 (USD 96) with all the necessary accessories attached.
“Microfuse basically means joining small parts together to come up with one strong and reliable equipment.” He says. “Microfuse’s aim is to make affordable computers to the normal Ugandan. I believe that every Ugandan deserves to own a computer. It’s absurd to find that someone studies computer in their A-level and the only time they get to use a computer is when they are doing their final papers which is not pleasing and this is majorly because the current devices are expensive and most Ugandans live below the poverty line you cannot expect them to afford these devices.”
Ivan however states that the microfuse will be ready for distribution after the team embarks on batch production, which they haven’t been able to do due to the lack of funding and support for their project. He however,believes that the funding will eventually come in the near future since people have started appreciating their motive and the products they intend to produce through the numerous exhibitions that they have participated in.
The team has also started a training program to help young Ugandans who are ready to learn and attain some skills in mechanical and computer engineering.In this way, the group is able to transfer knowledge to these youths which they can use in their innovations.
How This Group of Young Men is Creating Employment Through Art and Craft
BY MARVIN MUTYABA
A group of 6 youths in Makindye has embarked on a life changing journey, turning their passions and skills into a profitable business.
After attending a crafts exhibition at the National Theatre in 2015, these friends were inspired by the attractive crafts on display to start their own workshop making and selling crafts.
“We talked to Mr. Muwembo, the craftsman who was showcasing his work. He offered to give us training as we worked for him. His workshop was in Kanyanya so we used to come from Makindye every day to Kanyanya. It took us over a year to master how wood craft is done,” said Mark.
While at this apprenticeship, these young men started making their own pieces which they sold, using the profit to purchase their own equipment.
“We had a strategy. Every month we had to buy equipment. After a year, we had developed skills and were able to start our own workshop,” said Malakai, one of the proprietors of the workshop. “To start any business, it needs commitment, passion, and ready to take risks, consistency and involvement.”
In 2016, these committed youth started their workshop on a small piece of land given to them by Malakai’s father at Lukuli, Nanganda.
“After two months, KCCA came and demolished our workshop saying that they wanted only built up structures on the main road. Even all our equipment and materials were taken. We went back to zero and all our savings had been used to buy these things,” narrates Mark. “We visited KCCA offices several times trying to see if we could recover the materials. We had lost wood, vanish, paints and tools like small axes, carving tools, pry bars, clamps, hammers and marking tools. We never got any back so we gave up on them”
As a result, their work was put on a standstill for some time. This was a very big set back to their dream of building a very big craft shop. Their next challenge was getting another location.
“Towards the end of 2016, KCCA advertised a funding opportunity for the youths who had business ideas and also those that had running businesses. We wrote a proposal but this took a while and we never not get any feedback.”
Desperate for capital to start over, they sought loans from their parents to no luck. Only Abdul’s parents supported them with a small loan that wasn’t sufficient to cover the cost of materials and new equipment.
“During that time, there was a road construction project. we asked for jobs and worked there for 6 months. We saved all our money and rented a small piece of land where we put up a workshop. This time it was not on the main road. We started working again and lucky enough, we had market from our time at Muwembo”s workshop,” narrates Mark.
Due to their hard work, these six young men have managed to create jobs and employ more eleven young people who distribute and take on other tasks like filing, shaping, chiseling, painting among others. The group is constructing a workshop and a showroom on the main road in Lukuli. By next year, they believe, the workshop will be done.
“Basing on the current situation in the country, we are able to earn a living and also employ other people,” says Abdul.
When asked about their goals, this inseparable team wants to have at least 100 employees by the end of next year and also start exporting their craft. They encourage their fellow Ugandans to follow their passion and find a way of earning from it.
*This is a guest post by MARVIN MUTYABA, a student at Makerere University Business School, currently pursuing a Business Administration in his second year. He is passionate about entrepreneurship, skills development and fitness.
Turning Rubbish into Money In The Fight Against Unemployment
BY: MARVIN MUTYABA
Meet Calvin Matovu, a twenty-five-year old graduate from Makerere University who recycles wastes and rubbish into charcoal.
After attaining a Bachelor’s degree in Environmental science in 2013, Calvin searched for a job in vain. His life started becoming difficult as he had no source of income and he found it senseless to finish university and sit at idly at home.
In the struggle to fight unemployment, Calvin harnessed the idea of collecting wastes and rubbish from the community with his friends, to make some money.
“I asked myself, all this waste we collect and KCCA burns, can’t we reproduce a product out of it?’ Basing on my knowledge from campus, I came up with the idea of recycling wastes into charcoal.” Says Calvin at his factory in Erisa zone, Kyebando.
He set his plan in motion by gathering jobless youths in his community to create employment for themselves. Calvin and his team of seven started reusing wastes, especially organic wastes from agricultural products for example peelings from matooke. These are mixed with ash, clay, carbon and water to make a final product.
“At first we did not have market because people were already using charcoal from firewood with no clue about charcoal from wastes.” He says.
The idea of reusing garbage to make charcoal seems so unrealistic until he breaks down the process through which waste can be made useful and environment friendly.
“The raw materials include banana peelings, paper, clay, cow dung, cassava flour basing on your income level for example one can use clay or cow dung or cassava flour. The machines used are: a charring drum, crushing machine and a stick briquette machine. Peelings are collected and dried then sorted and grinded. Then they are burnt and put into the charring drum. The binder, which can be either cassava porridge, clay or cow dung is added to the wastes mix and the mixture is then poured into the briquette machine. the last step is to dry the briquettes to produce charcoal. This is done in the drying rack.”
Calvin and his team have faced a number of challenges but this has not stopped them from going further.
“In the beginning, we used our hands to mould the charcoal which was very tiresome and it left our hands spoilt with dead skin in the palms. Our quality also wasn’t that good. The market too was very low but we never gave up.”
“Use what surrounds you” is a common saying that we often do not give attention too, but instead, we keep asking our leaders for help yet what’s surrounds us can be very useful in our daily life.
Basic principles of Physics state that “Effort + Load = Work done.” Calvin’s hard work and desire to see his brilliant idea boom led him to overcome all the challenges that he and his team met. After months of several dynamics, critics and mental exhaustion, the season ended and he harvested fruits from his tree. Schools and some small companies started making orders for his charcoal. He has since received support from KCCA in form of a a manual machine that ended the hands era.
Calvin Matovu now he employs twenty young people from his own community in Kyebando. The charcoal briquettes they manufacture cost UGX 1500 and last for over seven hours, which minimizes the daily costs also reducing demand for firewood.
“Anyone can do this anywhere at any time.” He says in conclusion. “Every person should base on talent at least 50% of their daily economic activities.”
This is a guest post by MARVIN MUTYABA, a student at Makerere University Business School, currently pursuing a Business Administration in his second year. He is passionate about entrepreneurship, skills development and fitness.
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