Three JKUAT Graduates Tell Us About Their Solar-Powered, Silenced Lawnmower Project
The sun is simply pure energy radiating out into space and into our planet. It plays key roles in terms of sustaining life, weather patterns, and back in the days; telling time among other things. But in terms of harnessing the solar energy, it remains one of the most underutilized sources of energy on Earth.
Africa as a continent is blessed with the sunshine. Most regions in Africa can be said to receive consistent and predictable sunshine throughout the year. If the continent were to harness all these solar energy, we would not only be consuming green energy, but also we would improve our socio-economic standing. Not to mention exporting the excess energy to other cold regions on Earth.
That being said, today we share with you the story of three young entrepreneurs and innovators who have come up with an impressive lawnmower that uses solar energy. The lawnmower developed by three JKUAT graduates is impressive from three angles. It uses solar energy thus doesn’t contribute to greenhouse gases emissions, it is a silent lawnmower making it ideal in a lot of situations where silence is needed and it’s an intelligent robotic machine that automatically mows your lawn.
The trio pitched their project at the JKUAT Tech Expo 5.0 held last year, December. They are in the picture above with their assessor carrying a document file with Aicha on his right and to his left is Sanya and Tobias. The following is our exclusive interview with the three innovators.
Tell us about yourself.
We are the Robocut Lawnmower Team made up of three Mechatronic Engineering students Tobbias Omoro, Sanya Noel Okuku and Aicha Eugene. The Robocut Lawnmower project was our final year project for the completion of our coursework in Mechatronic Engineering. We are currently done with our degree programme.
Tell us about your project
The Robocut Lawnmower is a robotic lawn mower that automatically cuts grass without any human intervention other than the user placing it in the lawn and flipping the “ON” button. It is a four wheeled robot powered by two batteries that are solar powered. It uses sensors to detect presence of obstacles and would turn if an obstacle like a person, tree or wall is in front of it.
To do this, it has an array of sensors on the bumpers in front and back. It also has two grass sensors to detect presence of grass. When it is put on, it first senses whether it is on grass or not. It moves around and checks again at intervals before firing on the cutter motor below it to rotate the blades and cut grass. When it does not sense grass, the cutter motor is stopped.
While moving around, there is a running loop always checking on the battery power so that it doesn’t drop below some limit. This loop in the program will stop the lawnmower and put it in charging state whenever the battery level drops below a certain level. The lawnmower has an override for manual use activated by a button at the front.
What inspired you to come up with this project?
There are a number of things that made us to come up with the project. First is the fact that there are huge amounts of underutilized solar energy around that can be put to use in so many ways. Second, Many old, young, busy and disabled people have no capability to mow their lawns by themselves and have to employ people. This work can be done automatically.
Thirdly, many gasoline powered lawnmowers create both noise and air pollution as they work. There is emphasis on going green to protect our environment and keep it clean. Some peaceful and serene environments like hotels are not supposed to be subjected to the noise of a person mowing the lawn.
Our lawnmower is very quiet, you can barely hear the relatively silent hissing sound and besides, if it is charged, it can work even at night when it is all silent. Fourth, the robotic lawnmowers currently in the market cost a fortune, as high as 2000-4000 US dollars. We were able to make a cost efficient quality product with a budget of about 750 US dollars just using locally available materials.
If you were to meet a Venture Capitalists, what reasons would you give him/her to invest in your project?
The project has a ready market; hotels, stadiums, golf courses, recreation centers and homes to serve. The price is favorable for these markets and therefore the Returns on Investment are automatically high. We would reveal the statistics to any serious venture capitalist who would like to invest in the idea and help us take it ahead before we find the capital to move it ahead.
Have you taken any steps towards getting a Patent rights or Copyrights to this project
No we haven’t taken any steps to patent it because the idea is already in the market, it is just the execution that we did differently, in a way that has not been done yet. The software package is also unique on its own but we haven’t made any steps to patent it since it is made based on a free platform.
What were some of the challenges you’ve faced in executing your idea into a project that can be demonstrated?
The challenges we faced were sensor configurations, some of the sensors were very inaccurate and required a lot of calibration to work. Also, mechanical alignment of our drive chains wasn’t that easy. The motor drive shafts also gave us some problems especially due to slipping.
Did you have any guidance or a role model that helped you along the way in executing this project from just an initial idea you had.
We had the guidance of our supervisors Prof. George Nyakoe, Mr. Ruthandi Maina and Ms. Lucy Wanja. We also had the support of our project lecturers for the year 2014 Mr. Anthony Muchiri and Mr. James Wamae.
What advice can you give to fellow students (and African youths in general) out there having big ideas, but no clue on how to begin implementing it.
We would advise youths to start with something as immediately as right now. Let us not wait for the auspicious moment to come. That moment will never come, it is better to gather the little around you and get started, once you have used up all you can get your hands on, you can then move out to ask for help. Let us all just get started on our way to success.